Jack Houghton has re-signed for North Wales Crusaders after taking some time out of the game to take care of his mental health.
The second rower joined the club ahead of the 2017 season and went on to score 15 tries in 61 appearances. But during the 2019 season he admitted he was struggling off the pitch and sought the help he needed.
Now that he feels well enough to make a return to the game, the 24-year-old is urging anyone else feeling the way he did to ask for help.
“I’d struggled mentally for a while and, after I had a bad night, I made a few attempts on my own life,” admitted Houghton.
“Anthony Murray (coach) and Si Reynolds (assistant coach) called to my house on the way to our game in Wrexham that I was supposed to be playing in. They put their arms round me and got me the helped I needed through State of Mind.
“I got set up with a therapist and a lot of my issues have been fixed since I took a step away from playing rugby.
“I knew I wasn’t happy for years and I hadn’t been eating right or sleeping much. I was playing for my family and I thought that, if I didn’t have rugby, I didn’t have anything else.
“I’d stay in bed all day with the curtains closed and, even when I’d had a good game, I’d be doubting myself.
“Even when I’d left the club and wasn’t in the squad, Muzza (Murray) messaged me every day and made welfare calls to make sure I was doing fine.
“When I was thinking about getting back involved, I was doubting myself, but I didn’t want to get to a point where I wasn’t the right age to play anymore. If you’d asked me last year, I never thought I’d be able to play rugby again.
“I was encouraged to come down and train and told I’d always be made welcome. I’m absolutely buzzing as I’m really enjoying it.
“From a young age, you’re often told about showing no pain in sport, but I was a grown man crying and it’s important we break that stigma around mental health
“I want to show others like me that you’re not alone and put my arms round them if they need it.
“I see other lads who are quiet and not your typical rugby players like me and it’s important people speak out if they’re struggling with their mental health.”
Barrow’s Connor Terrill has also joined the club on loan.
HUNSLET captain Duane Straugheir admits the players must shoulder some of the responsibility for head coach Gary Thornton losing his job last week.
The decision to part company with Thornton came after Hunslet let a 44-22 lead slip against Coventry, eventually losing 46-44 in the Midlands.
“The players accept, as a group, that it was our fault and not Gary Thornton’s that a comfortable lead at Coventry was allowed to slip away,” said Straugheir.
“Every single one of us as a team would rather have faced the backlash from the fans or some sort of punishment from the club – be it a fine or whatever – than to have seen Gary lose his job.
“It was a long and sombre return to Leeds after that defeat and we’d already resolved, before his sacking, to make amends. We felt we really owed it to the club, the fans, and especially Gary after we let him down the way we did.”
The search is now on for Thornton’s successor and the club have revealed they have already had many expressions of interest in the role.
Thornton had been with the club for four years and after a slow start to the season due to the
major disruptions caused by Covid, things had begun to turn around with the Coventry defeat coming after a run of four straight wins.
“Sunday’s defeat follows a number of disappointing performances and results already this season,” said chairman Kenny Sykes.
“After due consideration the board has decided that a change of coach is needed to hopefully reinvigorate the squad and give us the best chance of success this season.
“We are very grateful to Gary for all his hard work over the last four years, particularly in dealing with a number of challenging logistical issues over Covid in the last twelve months, which were critical in getting us back playing.
“We wish him every success in the future.”
COVENTRY BEARS coach Richard Squires was left frustrated over the weekend that his side were unable to build on a memorable win over Hunslet the previous Sunday.
The Bears battled back from 22-44 down to seal a 46-44 win with a last minute Kieran Sherratt try.
Sunday’s planned trip to Workington was postponed due to positive cases of Covid-19 within the Town camp, giving the Bears an unexpected week off ahead of Friday’s re-arranged clash with Keighley Cougars at Butts Park Arena.
“We got a few bumps and bruises from it but nothing major. If anything it was more mentally draining. The outcome of it all was quite a lot to take in,” said Squires, who has rated the win over Hunslet higher than that over Rochdale at the end of May.
“We probably didn’t concentrate as we should have for 60 minutes but it was one of those game that went down to the wire and they don’t happen too often. Watching it back though we weren’t as bad as we thought we were.
“It was probably a bit sweeter than the Rochdale win, just because of the manner in which we came back. We let Hunslet get into it and when they get into their groove they’re a really difficult team to stop. But once we did that and had weathered the storm, they were down to one sub for the last 15 and we took advantage of that.
“We had built up a lot of momentum at the end of the game so it was frustrating we couldn’t build on that against Workington on Sunday. The postponement does halt that momentum and to be fair if we could have played Workington straight after the hooter to follow up on the momentum of the win, we would have done.
“But that’s the situation and we’ve just got to put everything into Keighley on Friday now.
“We’ve had a few guys out for the last few weeks so the weekend off has let us rest some of those, so in that regard it helps, but I think we’d have all rather gone straight back into a game and move forward that way.”
It is unlikely that the match against Workington will be replayed as the only blank weekend scheduled into the League 1 calendar is this week, and a midweek trip to Cumbria is unlikely to be possible for the part-time club.
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey has found one advantage to the number of injuries teams across the league are currently suffering with.
Crarey’s men have been hit hard in recent weeks, but that has allowed other younger members of the squad a chance to show what they can do on the field.
“Everyone is the same, we’re losing bodies every week and clubs are picking up a lot of injuries,” said Crarey.
“It has been difficult and it’s more little knocks that mean we lose players for one or two weeks at a time.
“That has meant we haven’t been able to select the same team every week and we’ve been playing players out of position which is never great, but everyone is the same.
“If teams haven’t been hit hard yet with injuries, I’m sure they will be before the end of the season.
“But we’ve just got to roll with what we’ve got and it means we’ve been able to give some lads some game time that they might not have got otherwise. That’s probably the best thing about what’s happening.
“These players are getting the confidence that comes with playing and some of the young players, like Charlie Emslie for us, are performing really well and the team will be getting the advantage of that.”
Meanwhile, the club have welcomed two-time Olympian Caroline Alexander on board as Sport and Wellbeing champion for the Community Foundation.
The Barrow-born cross-country mountain biker and road cyclist represented Great Britain at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000, as well as representing Scotland in the first mountain-bike event in the Commonwealth Games in 2002.
She will now use her experience to help introduce children and people of all ages in the local area to a new sport and the achievements it can bring.
KEIGHLEY COUGARS coach Rhys Lovegrove is enjoying the challenges playing every week is bringing to his squad.
In the last few seasons, League 1 clubs have had many weekend off during the season due to cup competition rounds or bye weekends, when there was an odd number of teams in the league.
But Newcastle’s elevation to the Championship for 2021 and a much later start than normal means that the only scheduled break in fixtures falls on Challenge Cup final weekend in July.
However for Keighley, the game against Coventry Bears that was postponed due to Covid cases at the Cougars will be played that weekend, meaning every weekend until the end of the season will see the side in action.
“Not having the weeks off and having games every week has made a huge difference to us,” said Lovegrove.
“Looking on the injury front, if we pick up a niggle now players tend to miss the next game, but if you look at last year we’d have played two games in the first five weeks so we would have a lot of those personnel available.
“But this is how it should be. Rugby League is about being exciting, it’s about making sure your whole squad is ready, not just the top 17 players. This set-up really asks questions and challenges you as a coach and challenges the squad to stay fit and ready and continue to perform well.
“I was an advocate of it when I saw that we were playing back to back and that remains the case.
“As the competition continues to get stronger, it means we’re getting challenging games every single week.”
WORKINGTON TOWN became only the second club in League 1 this season forced to call off a game due to Covid-19.
Sunday’s scheduled tie against Coventry Bears fell victim to the pandemic when five positive test were confirmed at the Cumbrian club, with three additional players deemed as close contacts and required to isolate.
Town were advised by the sport’s Multiple Cases Group to suspend training until at least Sunday, with further testing required before returning.
Keighley Cougars were also forced to postpone their game against the Bears last month for similar reasons and that game has been rescheduled to be played this Friday on the only blank weekend within the League 1 season. Therefore it is unlikely a new date will be found for the Bears to travel to Workington.
Despite the positive tests, Workington Town have heaped praise on all those who have got them to the half way point of the season with no other disruptions.
“The health and well-being of all our people at the club is paramount,” said a club spokesman.
“So we’d like to thank our Covid staff for the swift way that they dealt with the situation and for their excellent work covering the previous 63 training sessions and ten games since we returned without incident.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS chairman Andy Mazey has revealed the delay in lifting all coronavirus restrictions has not impacted too heavily on the club’s push for large crowds at the Crown Oil Arena.
Initially restrictions were due to be lifted on June 21 meaning Rochdale, and other club across the game, would no longer have to limit crowd numbers and adhere to social distancing rules.
That date was put back to next Monday, due to rising infection numbers, but it hasn’t stopped Rochdale pulling in the crowds through a new initiative that sees all junior players at local community clubs admitted free, with complimentary tickets made available to parents, volunteers and coaches.
And it seems to have worked, with nearly 1,400 turning up to see the victory over North Wales Crusaders and over 1,100 in attendance for the London Skolars game the following week. Rochdale’s average crowd in the 2019 Championship season was 770.
“The benefit for us, even with restrictions still in play, is that we have a 10,000 capacity stadium, so even with Covid protocols we can still comfortably fit our crowds in with a fair bit of room left to spread everyone out,” explained Mazey.
“The corporate rooms and boxes are all an adequate size to work with too, so the delay has not impacted us too much.
“We’re really pushing hard for crowds of 1,200 to 1,500, which will be Rochdale’s biggest crowds for a long time, and we’ve been getting our best crowds in many a year this season, even with Covid restrictions, which is definitely a good sign.”
DONCASTER forward Brad Foster has said he and his team mates will make the most of a rare weekend off ahead of the second half of the season.
The South Yorkshire club didn’t have a match at the weekend, with their round 10 clash at London Skolars put back a week to be played as the hosts’ now annual Friday Night Lights game held on the eve of the Challenge Cup Final.
Having lost 31-6 to table-toppers Barrow Raiders last time out, the Dons will travel to the capital looking to bounce back.
“We gave Barrow a tough game for the first 25 minutes but slowly came away from our structures,” Foster told the club website.
“It was a big chance to put our foot down in the league so we’re gutted. We’ve got to put this one behind us and I’m sure the staff will have plenty of clips for us to look at and improve from.
“The break has probably come at a good time because we have got a few boys carrying little knocks here and there. It gives us a chance to recover and the lads can be accountable for themselves in the way they look after their bodies away from rugby.
“We’ll go to London in a couple of weeks and put it right. There’s plenty of the season still to go and we’re in a good position.”
Meanwhile the club’s next home fixture against North Wales Crusaders on Sunday, July 25 has been switched to Castleford’s Mend-A-Hose Jungle to give the Keepmoat Stadium pitch extra time to prepare for a busy schedule in August.
LONDON SKOLARS coach Jermaine Coleman has admitted continuing injuries at the club will mean he asks more of those who are fit.
But he doesn’t expect too many complaints, given what they have experienced in the last 16 months.
“We’ve pretty much just got plough on and see how we get on,” said Coleman, who made his 250th career appearance against Rochdale Hornets.
“People will have to play out of position, and play bigger minutes than expected, but players across the league are in the same boat so it’s needs must.
“The benefit of that is that having gone a long time of not playing Rugby League, the players are more happy to play in a different position than they might have been in normal circumstances as it means they still get to play some rugby.”
Coleman had the chance to rest some of his ongoing injury concerns over the weekend as they enjoyed a rare weekend off.
Their round ten game against Doncaster will be played as the club’s Friday Night Lights game on the eve of the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley.
WEST WALES RAIDERS coach Aaron Wood has said the shortened season this year does affect how he has to manage the players within his squad.
The coming weekend will be the only free weekend for the club this season with the following games coming back to back once again until the rest of the season.
“The set up of the season does mean we have to work differently with the players,” said Wood.
“Back to back games means fatigue does set in and recovery times are shortened – especially for us if we play an away game on the Sunday and turn around for a home game game on Saturday.
“We also tend to get home from away games around midnight or 1 o’clock in the morning which can then affect our training times during the week.
“But that’s the league, it’s a tough competition to be involved in. The tough ones survive, so we just have to keep grafting away and we’re still hopeful we’ll get a couple of wins this season.
“We have just got to stay positive.”
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