Stevie Ward has confirmed his retirement from rugby league at the age of 27 as a result of concussion-related injuries.
Ward, a two-time Super League champion, was forced to spend the 2020 season on the sidelines after suffering from major symptoms of a delayed concussion following an incident in the first game of the season.
Since then, Ward has seen a number of specialists in an attempt to overcome the issue but has decided to hang up the boots.
“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,” he said in a statement.
“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.
“I thank every player that I have played with and against, and I am especially grateful for the incredible friendships the sport has given me.”
Ward, who was made Leeds captain last year, made over 130 appearances for the club.
Rhinos head coach Richard Agar, who had appointed Ward as the club’s captain at the start of 2020, said: “It is always disappointing when any player is forced to retire from the game prematurely due to injury but especially so when it is someone with so much talent and potential as Stevie Ward. I know that our medical team have worked tirelessly with Stevie this year to try and find a positive outcome however unfortunately Stevie has now taken the difficult decision to begin the next stage of his journey after rugby.
“On a personal level, when I became Head Coach back in 2018, Stevie was one of the senior players who was a catalyst for change and getting the club back to our core values. Having made Stevie our captain a year ago, personally it is sad to see his career end this way but I am sure he will continue his work with Mantality and bring the same level of professionalism and expertise to his future work that he has shown on the field throughout his career.”
The club have committed to helping further understand the impact of concussion injuries via a project headed by their Pathway Performance Director and Head of Performance at the Rugby Football League, Professor Ben Jones.
“Rugby League has always been a sport that is open to research and change to improve both the performance and wellbeing of players,” Jones said.
“We all recognise that Rugby League is tough, and that players train hard week in week out, to perform at their best. We also appreciate the sacrifices players make and that injuries do happen. There is a huge amount of research ongoing across Rugby League looking to monitor the load players are exposed to, specifically related to collisions in general but more specifically head collisions.
“Everyone recognises that it is a fine balance between ensuring players are at their best both physically and mentally to perform in a match, whilst also making sure players find that balance in the week to recover. The work Dan, Greg and the team at Prevent Biometrics are doing is really important to not only the club, but also Rugby League as a game. We recognise that we need to understand the collisions players are exposed to, and this is an example of a study with help us do that.”