BBC BLOGS - George Riley

Archives for March 2011

Life after rugby league

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George Riley George Riley | 08:36 UK time, Thursday, 24 March 2011

The retirement of former Australia Test centre Phil Bailey once again reminded us that a career in professional sport can be a fragile one. The 30-year-old was forced to quit because of an Achilles injury, having joined Super League side Salford from Wigan in the close season.

Life changes quickly when age or injury catches up with a sportsman. Unlike top footballers, rugby league players don't have financial security once their playing careers end. The average salary for a top rugby league player bears no comparison to that of a Premier League footballer, who can earn millions. That means fear and uncertainty for some rugby league players when retirement day comes.

To get an idea of the challenges some face when the body says no more, I spoke to three former Super League stars who have moved in very different directions since their careers finished.

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New-look Quins off to flying start

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George Riley George Riley | 10:23 UK time, Thursday, 17 March 2011

So many big rugby league stories this week - and most of them negative. Chief among them have been Kyle Eastmond's suspension by St Helens and the investigation by Leeds Rhinos into alleged comments by Ryan Bailey. I will touch on those in a bit but I would rather start by applauding Harlequins.

With a rookie coach attempting to fill the boots of Brian McDermott and having lost chief playmaker Danny Orr and top young talents Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Will Sharp at the end of last season, Quins, who remain a target for their poor home crowds, are proving one of the surprise success stories in the first few weeks of the season.

Rob Powell's men have stunned both Leeds and St Helens away from home, winning four of their first five games in Super League XVI to stand fourth in the table. The introduction of the league's youngest coach - Powell is only 30 - was a gamble but looks to be paying off. He seems to have breathed new life into the Quins dressing room, while the players definitely appear to have a fresh spring in their step.

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Orr back to give Tigers some added bite

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George Riley George Riley | 12:29 UK time, Thursday, 10 March 2011

After Castleford's unsuccessful 2003 Super League season, half-back Danny Orr made the hard decision to quit his hometown club for the good of his career.

Eight years on, the effervescent 32-year-old is enjoying an unlikely second coming at the Tigers, playing a key role in establishing the team as shock Super League leaders.

"Coming back was not something I'd really thought about, although me and my wife had started to discuss possibly moving back up north," says Orr of the months leading up to his surprise return to west Yorkshire following four seasons in London with Harlequins.

"To where we weren't sure. A couple of clubs showed an interest. Then so did Cas and that just felt right."

Orr gave me a call after training on Wednesday as he headed home to do a bit of DIY around his house. I couldn't get a word in edgeways as I spoke to a man who lives and breathes Castleford rugby league. His pride in their stunning start to the season is as obvious as the Tigers heart he wears on his sleeve. Orr's former employers Harlequins have also been flying at the start of the season, so is the Orr magic rubbing off?

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Sinfield stays loyal as Eastmond moves on

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George Riley George Riley | 11:39 UK time, Thursday, 3 March 2011

Last week, 30-year-old Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield signed a new contract to stay at Headingley for the rest of his professional career. This week, 21-year-old St Helens scrum-half Kyle Eastmond decided to join Bath rugby union. I find the respective career choices of both players fascinating.

I spoke to Sinfield at length as the Leeds squad took a day off following what the England forward describes as "two hard days fixing what went wrong" after a shock home defeat by surprise Super League leaders Harlequins. I am told the Rhinos had a swim and then watched a video of their 36-26 reverse, which made for "unpleasant viewing".

I rang Sinfield to discuss loyalty in sport and to ask him what inspires some players to commit to one club, while others, rightly or wrongly, concentrate on maximising their earning potential? Should we respect a one-club man more than one who chooses to step out of his comfort zone for a new challenge?

"Loyalty has always been a big thing in my life but it works two ways," Sinfield told me. "The club has been very loyal to me. When I signed that deal last week, many people thought I was foolish. Leeds are not the biggest or best payers but I have a good lifestyle and they have invested so much in grassroots rugby league and in young players that it makes it very, very difficult for me to think of leaving."

St Helens invested in Eastmond, too, yet he still decided to move on. "It is very disappointing as we spent a lot of time and effort on Kyle's development over the years," admitted Saints assistant coach Keiron Purtill.

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