Former Castleford utility Francis Maloney says he has thought about killing himself, since being diagnosed with dementia.
Maloney, 48, is part of a group of 75 former professional players taking legal action against the RFL.
Lawyers say there is a ‘ticking timebomb’ of former players, who as they reach their 40s and 50s, are developing various neurological issues.
They plan to launch a group action for negligence against the RFL over their failure to protect them from risks caused by concussions.
Hard as nails
Maloney, who played for 10 clubs during his career, was diagnosed with early-onset dementia and probable CTE in March.
He told The Times: “I was never worried about dying but, having been told I have eight to 10 years left to live, I’m scared now.
“I’ve always been this little hard-case who could fight but this is the first time in my life I have felt vulnerable.
“My partner and I were talking about it the other night and we just broke down in tears.
“I told my mum I have dementia and her response was ‘you’re hard as nails, you’ but I said ‘no Mum, I’m not’ and then she started crying too
“It feels like I’m dwindling away now and I recently thought about killing myself.
“I thought ‘I’ve got dementia, I don’t want someone wiping my arse for me – what’s the point in even being here?’ I’m struggling big time.”
Players love the game
Maloney played twice for England against France in 1999 and made 284 senior appearances in his career.
Former internationals Bobbie Goulding and Mike Edwards are also part of the legal action.
Lawyer Richard Boardman is also representing 175 former rugby union players in a claim against the 15-man code’s governing body.
Boardman, of Rylands Legal, 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.”
The impending legal case has been cited by some as a reason for a significant clamp down on the field this year.
Concussion protocols have been extended, while any contact to the head has been punished.
Injured players being lifted off the floor has also prompted charges.
Laughing it off
Maloney estimated he sustained 14 concussions during his playing career.
He added: “I played for Halifax against Castleford and someone said ‘Franny, you can’t snore on the field’.
“I was actually snoring during the game because I was out cold and they put me on a stretcher and in a neck brace, knocked out for what I was told was nine minutes.
“Another time I played for Castleford Tigers at London Broncos and had been knocked out but got back up because that was the mentality we had.
“I was staggering around and fell on my face and got knocked out again but still played the week after.
“We were laughing about it, but of course you don’t realise the potential repercussions at the time.
“I’ve never done a head test in my life and don’t really remember much about all the games I played.
“As a half-back, you get tackled about 30 times a game and make the same number, so that’s effectively 60 car crashes per game.”
Maloney’s memory loss and mood swings have grown worse in recent years.
When he underwent a brain scan and other testing earlier this year, his worst fears were confirmed.
He said: “I have always said to my mum that I can’t remember certain things and she would joke ‘you’ve had too many knocks to the head’.
“I went to watch Leeds play Catalans recently and I left Headingley early because I had a panic attack. But I couldn’t remember where I parked my car.
“I work in a school and I keep forgetting the kids’ names.
“It’s the same with members of staff. I used to be the life and soul of the party but not anymore. It’s scary.”
Maloney started his career at Leeds before moving on to Featherstone and Warrington.
He played in the inaugural Super League season for Oldham, and went on to have two spells at Castleford either side of stints at Wakefield and Salford.
Boardman says the same worrying symptoms are being seen repeatedly 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.
News of the case first broke in October.
The RFL issued a statement that read: “