AN ex-Warrington Wolves winger is among former international rugby league players who are planning to launch a group action for negligence against the Rugby Football League, claiming a failure to protect them from the risks caused by concussions and sub-concussions.

Lawyers for the former players, including ex-Wire and Scotland flyer Jason Roach, say there is a ‘ticking timebomb’ of potentially hundreds of former rugby league players, who as they reach their 40s and 50s, are developing various neurological issues, such as early onset dementia, CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), Epilepsy, Parkinson’s Disease and Motor Neurone Disease.

CTE is the disease discovered by Dr Benet Omalu in American football player Mike Webster and the subject of the 2015 movie, Concussion, starring Will Smith. It is a cruel and progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma, often athletes.

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The former players allege that given the significant risk of serious or permanent brain damage caused by concussions and sub-concussions, the RFL owed them, as individual professional players, a duty to take reasonable care for their safety by establishing and implementing rules in respect of the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of actual or suspected concussive and sub-concussive injuries.

Super League and Great Britain legend Bobbie Goulding, plus former Wales international Michael Edwards, are also part of a test group of 10 players, all under the age of 60, bringing the legal action, but their lawyer, Richard Boardman of Rylands Legal, says he is representing 50 former professional rugby league players in their 20s to 50s, all of whom are showing symptoms associated with neurological complications.

This is alongside the 175 former rugby union players Boardman represents in a separate lawsuit.

He says the same worrying symptoms are being seen over and over again across both codes of rugby, such as depression, violence, significant memory loss, shortness of temper, incontinence, drug and alcohol addiction, and in some cases, failed suicide attempts.

Goulding, 49, was diagnosed with early onset dementia / probable CTE this month.

Warrington Guardian:

His diagnosis followed a 17-year career, mostly spent in the Super League, for Wigan, Leeds, Widnes and St Helens. He has had well documented issues with alcohol and drug addiction.

“For something like this to come out of the blue and hit me like a bus is hard to take,” he told the Daily Mail.

“I didn’t think about dementia at all, I just thought it was the way life was. (When I played) I was 13 stone, 5ft 6in, playing against blokes who were 6ft 2in and 19 stone, and didn’t even bother about it. But it takes its toll in the end. Especially if they’re angry!

“I played within days of serious knockouts on at least three occasions.

"I remember playing on a Sunday for Leigh at Huddersfield towards the end of my career [in 2002.]

"I was in Huddersfield Royal Infirmary on the Sunday night after being seriously knocked out, and played the following Saturday against Batley.

"I didn’t have one doctor check on me during that week. ‘Bob, are you ready to play?’ he said. ‘Yeah I’ll play.’ If you watched the video, you’d be shocked.

“There was another game that stands out just after I’d signed for Widnes [in 1992].

"We were playing at Hull KR live on Sky and I was knocked out. We were still living in Leeds at the time, so I didn’t get the team bus home.

"My wife drove and she had to pull over on the motorway as all my bodily functions just went right through me. She had to pull over, and there was excrement and urine everywhere. It was horrendous. I had no control at all.”

Mickii Edwards, 48, former Oldham, Swinton and Wales prop played at the top level of rugby league in the 1990s.

He only received his diagnosis of early onset dementia and probable CTE this month too.

“My symptoms came out of the blue two years ago – it was like being hit by a bus," Edwards told the Daily Mail.

Warrington Guardian:

"Three years ago I did a 125 mile run and the year before I did the Marathon de Sables, six marathons in six days in the Sahara desert, but all of a sudden I went to pieces.

"I started being clumsy, dropping things all the time. I got headaches, a wave of tiredness over my face. I couldn’t stand bright lights, even my wife turning the light on in the morning would irritate me. Loud noises were painful.

“I just took it on the chin and thought it was because I was getting old, but we had some tests done and discovered I’ve got early dementia.

"There will be a lot of guys with this condition who don’t even know it. They’re big strong guys with a very high tolerance for pain and suffering, so they will just be getting on with it.

"They’ll be walking around in La La land, doing tough jobs on construction sites, when they need help.

“When I played, you’d have a bang on the head, be bleeding, but just play on. The doctor would stick Vaseline on the wound and say carry on. Often after games I’d feel sick and nauseous. There were no protocols or aftercare. You were basically treated like a piece of meat.

“There’s no help or support out there. There are a lot of suicides among former rugby players. Two of my mates from one team killed themselves, for no apparent reason. They were obviously depressed with hindsight, but no-one knew they were depressed. We need to put a structure in place to get help to people who need it.”

Roach, who played for St Helens as well as Warrington, was also diagnosed with early onset dementia and probable CTE.

“I started forgetting things about 10 or 12 years ago before I was 40, even major events," he told the Daily Mail.


"One time I got into trouble with the police. I was arrested seven days after an incident in my car, but when the police knocked on my door, I had no recollection of it happening.

"They told me that I’d gone into the back of a car, threatened the other driver, and then driven off. The policeman said to me, ‘you’re either the best liar in the world, or you didn’t do it!’ I pleaded guilty, but to this day I can’t remember a thing.

“I forget where I’ve parked my car and have to check I’ve locked the doors a hundred times to make sure. Sometimes I’ll be making coffee and realise I’ve put two spoons in the cup. Why would I do that? These aren’t major things, but they make me feel anxious about the future. I’ve got a 10-month old daughter and need to look after her.

“I used to be the life and soul, but because of the forgetfulness I’ve retreated into my shell. I was a nervous wreck getting the train because I don’t do public transport anymore. I’ve become quite reclusive. I just go to work, come home, have the odd drink in my garden.

“Bizarrely I can still remember my first concussion. I was playing for St Helens against Bradford at Christmas. I took the ball up from the kick-off, was cleaned out, then just sat down on my backside!

"I played on until half-time. I wasn’t out cold, but the lads said I was singing Christmas carols on the bench in the second half. I was taken to hospital, where I rang my partner of two years, and she said we’d split up a few weeks earlier. I had no idea. I was in tears in the hospital in my Saints kit.”

Ryan MacDonald, 43, is a former Halifax, Workington and Scotland prop. As an abrasive, ball-carrying prop, MacDonald had arguably one of the most physical roles in world sport. He too has the same diagnosis of dementia / probable CTE.

“The worst thing for me is the anger issues. I can be really nasty and aggressive with people for no reason," he told the Daily Mail.

"If someone looks at me in what I consider the wrong way I’ll bite their head off, or want to get hold of them. It’s absolutely awful. I feel like my head is in a dark cloud all the time.

“I try not to get upset, but I know it’s only going to get worse. When I talk to the other lads and hear what I’ve got to look forward to, sometimes I wonder, what’s the point? It’s very frightening as I’ve got a young family and need to support them. It’s only thinking about my kids and my family that keeps me going.”

Sports law partner Richard Boardman is keen to point out, as are all the players, that this isn’t just about financial compensation – it is also about making the game safer and getting tested and diagnosed to get urgent clinical support.

He said: “The vast majority of the former players we represent love the game and don’t want to see it harmed in any way.

"They just want to make it safer so current and future generations don’t end up like them.

"Younger players such as Stevie Ward, Rob Burrow and Sam Burgess have spoken publicly about their own brain damage, so these issues aren’t restricted to older generations.

"This is why we’re asking the RFL to make a number of immediate, relatively low-cost changes to save the sport, such as limiting contact in training and extending the return to play (following a concussion).”