Castleford Tigers ace Danny Richardson details his harrowing road to recovery ahead of Super League comeback

Aaron Bower
Castleford Tigers badge, Danny Richardson

Danny Richardson practices his kicking ahead of a Castleford Tigers pre-season game - Alamy

It may have only been half an hour in a pre-season friendly, but for Danny Richardson, it felt like a moment he thought would potentially never arrive.

Those not paying complete attention might have skimmed past the fact that the Castleford Tigers half-back was actually on the field against London Broncos last month.

After all, Richardson has been a permanent fixture in Super League for a number of years – both at St Helens, where he burst onto the scene as a talented teenager with the rugby world at his feet, and now at Castleford.

But for the last 18 months, he has been restricted to the role of frustrated spectator after a horrific injury nightmare that must have felt never-ending on more than one occasion.

A torn ACL and MCL against Salford Red Devils in August 2022 ended his season prematurely, just as Castleford were pushing for the play-offs under Lee Radford.

The initial prognosis was around 12 months on the sidelines, leading to the prospect of him perhaps feature late last year for the Tigers as they battled for Super League survival. However, further setbacks meant he would miss the entirety of the 2023 season.

So often, we think of players as exactly that: players, served up for our entertainment and little more.

But there is a human impact to spending such a significant part of a playing career unable to even do the most basic of things, let alone play rugby league at the highest level.

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‘It’s just made me put things into perspective… I struggled bathing my daughter at times because I couldn’t even kneel down’

It is safe to say the last 18 months have shaped Richardson as a person, as well as just a player. “It’s just made me put things into perspective,” he tells Love Rugby League. “You can get too down about a loss sometimes or too high about a win.

“For a period of time you lose the general function of your life,” he admits.

Danny Richardson Castleford Tigers SWpix
Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix

“For example, I struggled bathing my daughter at times because I couldn’t even kneel down. You sort of forget about rugby for a bit and realise what actually does matter, like your family. You grow up a bit.

“If anything, it’s just made me more hungry and excited to just get back playing, watching every week. Once you take a step back and can’t affect the game, it is really frustrating, especially the way we were going last year.

“I just wanted to help out and I couldn’t. I’ve developed as a person.

“To get back playing after 18 months, at times you don’t think that day is going to come as it’s just so long.”

That nightmare definitively comes to an end on Saturday evening for Richardson. He is likely to feature for Castleford in their season opener against defending champions Wigan Warriors, at a practically sold-out Wheldon Road.

It will be some way to return to competitive rugby league.

“To get back playing after 18 months, at times you don’t think that day is going to come as it is that long without getting on a field,” he says.

“I was excited more than anything to get back playing in pre-season. It’s my livelihood and it’s all I want to do: play rugby and win. I’ve not been able to do that for a full year and a half.”

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‘You’re getting robbed of your daily abilities’

We often hear about the severity of injuries like the one Richardson suffered: but not the mental scars it can leave, as well as the things it deprives you of away from the rugby field.

“You’re getting robbed of your daily abilities, stuff like to just walk down the stairs,” Richardson admits.

Danny Richardson
Danny Richardson in action for Castleford Tigers in pre-season – Alamy

“In the first stages you just want get up, walk to the fridge and get a drink, and it’s that much of an effort that you can’t be bothered. It puts things into perspective and drives you on even more.”

The emotional toll of being confided to the physio room while your team-mates are doing the one thing you crave more than anything else is another difficult step in the recovery, according to Richardson. “That’s probably the worst bit,” he says.

“Someone will get a two-monther and they’ll be in and out, and you’ll be at almost the same stage in your recovery as when they came in.

“It’s just baby steps. For me, I’ve always tried to run before I can walk too. You have to develop patience but thankfully, we’re here now.”

It will certainly be a cathartic moment for Richardson when he steps onto the field on Saturday evening. Some may look at his performance and scrutinise it, to try and ascertain at a simply far too early stage whether or not Richardson can be the player he was pre-injury.

However, another big learning of the recovery period for the half-back is to simply ignore that attention.

“One of the big things I’ve learned over the past 18 months is ignoring outside noise,” he says.

“I’d never really been bothered about it before anyway but now, I couldn’t care less whether people think I’ve got a point to prove or not.

“I’m just looking forward to getting out there, enjoying my rugby with a smile on my face and getting back to winning games again.

“Friendlies are great and I was excited to get back playing, but when there’s a Super League game on the telly in an evening, there’s two points at stake: it’s a completely different kettle of fish.”

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