Dave Hadfield: Rugby league players' lot is not a happy one in a game suffering money and image problems

One of the most depressing thoughts for a sportsman is no reliable income
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The Independent Online

Depressed, unsettled and disillusioned. That is the picture of the modern rugby league player that emerges from a poll of half of those playing in Super League.

A survey organised jointly by Rugby League World magazine and the players' association, 1eague3, has come up with some startling findings.

Three-quarters of Super League players are considering leaving for the richer pickings in rugby union or the Australian NRL.

A third feel that they have had to deal with depression during their careers, while only a derisory three per cent believe that the game is well enough marketed in this country.

The chairman of 1eague3, the St Helens and England forward Jon Wilkin, admitted that some of the findings had taken him aback, but there are reasons why so many players should have responded the way they have.

Rugby league has become increasingly aware of the issue of depression since the Test hooker Terry Newton took his own life three years ago. Since then, a number of players have come forward to admit that they have suffered from some of the same symptoms.

The RFL has run a State of Mind campaign to encourage players to talk about the issue. None of the problems are unique to rugby league, but such an explosively aggressive game is perhaps more prone to them than most.

All the same, 34 per cent is a high figure for those prepared to acknowledge that they have had difficulties. Some of those will be coming to terms with the end of their careers – possibly prematurely – but for others, like Warrington's Paul Wood, it has come while they were highly successful.

Of course, one of the most depressing thoughts for a sportsman is that he is not able to earn a reliably decent income. Thus the second "headline" finding of the poll – that 75 per cent of current Super League players would be interested in switching to rugby union or the NRL.

In a sense, this question is a no-brainer. It is union or Australia where the money is at the moment, so if you ask players whether they would like a slice of that, a large proportion of them are likely to answer "yes please".The extra factor pushing them in that direction is the financial uncertainty at many clubs, with Wakefield last week becoming the latest to admit that their numbers do not add up.

Ask players whether they would rather be somewhere where they could count on being paid and you would get close to 100 per cent in the affirmative.

As for the 97 per cent who believe they are not marketed properly, the RFL will find that depressing after its much-praised League of the Extraordinary campaign, not to mention the promotion of Sam Tomkins, which has made him surely the most heavily marketed rugby league player ever. At the very least, this survey should serve as a wake-up call to the Super League that its sport is not in the best of health.