ASK any rugby league fan if they have heard of players playing with injections just to make it onto the field and the answer will be ‘yes’.
However, for some like former Wigan Warriors and Bradford Bulls prop Stuart Fielden, the reality of doing so was much starker.
One of the most decorated Super League players in history with four Grand Final titles, two Challenge Cup wins and three World Club Challenges under his belt, Fielden was a formidable figure on the field.
That being said, being a rugby league player doesn’t come easy and whilst fans often do not get to see what goes on behind closed doors, issues away from the field affects the product on it.
For Fielden, the loss of his mother in 2006 and the continuous spate of injuries he began to suffer as the 2010s approached put him in a dark place.
In an honest interview with League Express, the former Great Britain and England international has now revealed what went on in 2006 and after.
“In 2007, 2008 and 2009 at Wigan, I really struggled,” Fielden told League Express.
“My mum died in 2006 and I shouldn’t have gone on tour with Great Britain then – I wasn’t in the right mindset.
“Injuries also didn’t help; I played 12 weeks one year when I couldn’t even train. I was playing in games with injections.
“I had operations on my toes, I played 12 weeks with a broken thumb. The vast majority of other times I was getting injected in shoulders and knees and I even had a nerve injury in my neck.
“I was playing when I should have been smart and sat out – I was 90% at best. I would limp through training in the captain’s run the day before and for the rest of the week I would be doing skills elsewhere.
“I wanted to prove everyone wrong, yet all I did was show I was a shadow of my former self. No one knew the state I was playing in nor the depression I suffered.”
“I not only did myself a disservice but everyone thought ‘he had gone’. Some part was mental as I was in my head a little bit after my mum died. I was depressed for a number of years, but the injuries took their toll.”
Despite those hardships, Fielden became one of Wigan’s most important players around the turn of the decade as Michael Maguire’s appointment as the Warriors’ head coach galvanised a wounded side.
“Nobby (Brian Noble) did a great job of keeping Wigan up but we always struggled after that whereas Michael Maguire turned thing around.
“We did the army camps and he put all the standards and things in place. We had player meetings where the players would review each one of us.
“He wanted us to be honest. In defence in training, if you aren’t honest or don’t put your hand up then things fall down.”
One of Fielden’s greatest moments in his career was winning the 2010 Grand Final under Maguire.
“I would say one of my career highlights was the Wigan Grand Final win in 2010 because that was after I had struggled a number of years with injuries and Wigan hadn’t been performing but Maguire came in and brought all the standards with the wrestle and the ‘Melbourne’ way.
“We went into 2010 with the same squad from years previous to winning the Grand Final. We were the best team by far that year.”