How RL Cares helps players construct a new life after injury
It requires special qualities to become a professional Rugby League player: dedication, commitment, application and natural ability are all common traits of the heroes who thrill crowds and TV viewers week in, week out.
So, too, is luck, especially when it comes to avoiding those cruel bi-products that are an inevitable feature of a tough, uncompromising physical sport like Rugby League: injuries.
Years of hard work can be undone in an instant by one awkward tackle, but more often it is a series of events that lead to lifelong dreams being dashed.
Just ask Mason Tonks.
A glittering career seemingly lay ahead for the Smawthorne Panthers junior when, at 16, he signed a professional contract with Leeds Rhinos. Yet, within six years and a career that took him around the world, Mason was forced to rethink his future after a succession of injuries ended his playing days.
After leaving Leeds to join New Zealand Warriors, Mason returned to the UK and had spells with Featherstone and Bradford before signing for Doncaster. A serious knee injury sidelined him for almost a year and though he made a full recovery, two spells of concussion undermined his comeback before a broken leg forced a major re-think at the age of just 22.
“I couldn’t run because of the pain, both in my leg and in my back, and I seemed to be spending every Saturday in A&E,” said Mason. “I knew I couldn’t carry on playing, it wasn’t worth sacrificing my body anymore.
“Retiring was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Playing Rugby League was all I had ever wanted to do. Where could I turn?”
The answer was Rugby League Cares, and specifically the charity’s Career Coach Julie Measures, who has had a huge influence in helping Mason turn his life around and open up a bright future away from sport.
“Mason was really low in confidence when we first met, he didn’t know what he wanted to do because like a lot of players his age, ‘life after rugby’ seemed such a long way away,” said Julie.
“Mason had been doing some part-time work with his dad in the construction industry so we sat down and worked out what his options were and it all went from there.”
With Julie’s help, Mason secured an apprenticeship with Cidon Construction to become a formwork joiner in their reinforced concrete division but within a few months recurring back pain prompted another re-evaluation.
“I’d got decent grades from school and Cidon were brilliant with me: they said why don’t you study to become an engineer,” said Mason.
“I was hesitant at first but after speaking to Julie I said yes and now I have a career I want to progress in.
“I’ve got a HNC and have been working for the last three years a site engineer. I love it.”
Mason left Cidon last October to join Caddick Construction, the company founded by Leeds Rhinos chairman Paul Caddick: in a strange way, his journey had come full circle.
“I’d put a post on LinkedIn about what I was up to and someone I knew through rugby from my junior days got in touch to say that Caddick Construction were always on the lookout for good engineers,” said Mason.
“That was a good lesson: it’s always worth making the most of your contacts and network to find opportunities.
“I have a lot of people to be grateful to for getting me to where I am now, including Cidon and Caddick Construction, but without the support of Julie and RL Cares I wouldn’t be in this position.
“There’s not a day goes by when I don’t miss being a Rugby League player but I love my new career and I’ll always be thankful to Julie and RL Cares for helping me get here.”