Leeds Rhinos captain Stevie Ward retires at 27 due to effects of concussions

Leeds captain Stevie Ward has been forced to retire at the age of 27 due to concussions he suffered last yea - PA
Leeds captain Stevie Ward has been forced to retire at the age of 27 due to concussions he suffered last yea – PA

Leeds Rhinos captain Stevie Ward has retired from rugby aged just 27 because of the effects of concussions which have left him unable to perform daily tasks or exercise without suffering severe symptoms.

Ward’s testimony will add to the fears of a concussion crisis engulfing both codes of the game with a group of former rugby union players, including World Cup winner Steve Thompson, launching a lawsuit against authorities including World Rugby and the Rugby Football Union. Ward has not recovered from two concussions he sustained in matches against Wigan Warriors on 19 January and Hull FC on February 2 last year.

The loose forward made more than 150 appearances for his hometown club but says that he is not prepared to risk his long-term health, particularly with the links between repeated concussions and the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. “I have come to the conclusion, after over 11 months of severe symptoms, that I need to give this injury the respect and time it deserves and cannot put my health and brain to any further risk and detriment,” Ward wrote in a statement released to the Press Association.

“On a daily basis, I struggle with migraines, dizziness, motion sickness, sensitivity to light and screens, short-term memory issues, slurred speech, and an inability to exercise or do daily tasks without irritating my symptoms.

“I love the game of rugby league. I am immensely proud to have competed on some of the biggest stages next to childhood heroes and test myself to the absolute limit while feeling the incredible buzz from the Leeds fans after being one myself as a youngster.”

Ward has previously helped to raise awareness around mental health which he says was “historically stigmatised” within rugby league. Now he has promised to dedicate himself to making the sport safer while maintaining its integrity.

Another former teammate Rob Burrow made public his diagnosis with motor neurone disease on the same day that Ward was made captain. Ward says urgent questions need to be asked to spare another generation of “guinea pigs” suffering similar fates.

“It is now about having a glimpse into the scary world of neurological impairment and being another voice to help bring about the changes needed,” Ward wrote. 

“With the news about Rob and the current climate of rugby union players, I cannot help but ask the questions that need to be asked.

“I am left motivated to help get our sport to a place where it can ensure the players’ long-term safety whilst keeping the beauty and grit of the game.

“Of course, more research is needed. However, I believe that there is an element of laziness with just making this statement.

“It is now time to be asking and answering more specific questions. What will this research be? How will it be funded? How long will this new research take? And how do we focus our efforts in the meantime?

“The biggest question is what can be done to make things safer for our players now. We need to be more proactive and not rely on another generation of players to be guinea pigs for future research that will take years to give us the answers we need now.

“Part of this questioning has to look into the culture and stigma around concussion within the game and how we can use the anecdotal evidence that we are receiving from former union and league players with the science that is already out there to draw connections to the part of the sport we can adapt.

“My focus now will be shifting away from the sport. Hopefully, when I start to make improvements, I will be able to shine a light on concussion and brain injuries, which is an area where there are, unfortunately, more questions than answers.”

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long added to this report.