A former NRL star has said players’ mental health will be a big concern during this “testing time”, after the league suspended its 2020 season amid the coronavirus crisis.
Former St. George Dragons and Cronulla Sharks player Jason Stevens said the “pain” felt by these sporting stars will extend beyond financial woes, as the forced break will be “a test of your identity and where you get your worth from”.
Hours after Monday night’s suspension announcement, Stevens spotted St. George Dragons players walking along a Wollongong beach on Tuesday, no doubt still processing the news.
“They look lost. It’s surreal because they would be training and they would have done two sessions by that time [if it wasn’t suspended],” he told HuffPost Australia.
“The off-season is the most excruciating time,” he explained, saying “the boys have just done that and now there’s no game”.
“I would’ve played another two years if I didn’t have to do an off-season. It’s that hard – you’re coming home under fatigue every day and you do that so you can play.”
Stevens, who retired from professional rugby league in 2005, said he understood “nothing’s going to replace playing”, but players will need to now have a “good support system” and “keep their minds occupied” to cope.
“I would encourage them to use their time wisely,” he said. “Studies and anything they can put their mind to to make this time go a little bit quicker.”
Stevens said developing other skills will also benefit the players in the future because they won’t be in the game forever.
“If you make first grade and earn good money, then statistically you’re not guaranteed a long time at the top to be honest with you,” he explained.
“And you’ve got to try and make the most of that situation and now you’re in a situation where potentially pay is going to be cut. It’s really, really challenging times.”
St George Dragons player Trent Merrin and South Sydney Rabbitohs player Lattrell Mitchell reacted to the NRL’s decision on social media, emphasising family, mental and physical health would be important in coming weeks and months.
On Tuesday Melbourne Storm chief executive Dave Donaghy said players would now be allowed to spend time with families, while still following a training program they’ve been given.
“They’ve obviously been given a program to do their best with keeping fit ... those TRX machines will get quite a workout over the next period of time, I would imagine,” Donaghy said during a Fox League appearance.
Sydney Roosters players will also be given individual training programs, as well as physiotherapy and counselling.
“There’s a mental health aspect, we’ve got a clinical psychologist on board so he’ll start getting around to each player to discuss their individual issues,” said Roosters coach Trent Robinson.
On Tuesday the 16 clubs’ CEOs and chairs discussed future plans, hoping for a best-case scenario of resuming on June 1, meaning just a nine-week hiatus.
The NRL said they can’t promise fans a definite date as the government’s health advice will need to be followed.
Last week ARLC (Australian Rugby League Commission) chairman Peter V’landys asked for a government bail-out should the league be forced to shut down, a request Prime Minister Scott Morrison said wasn’t a high priority.
The NRL confirmed on Tuesday “inevitably there will be financial implications” for players and other NRL staff.