“I had a young family, I was scared, how was I going to survive, how was I going to pay the bills?”
Professional sport is a ruthless business, and rugby league is no different. Indeed this is the time of year when contracts are up for renewal, where dreams are either made or buried.
Gil Dudson is talking to Love Rugby League as he prepares to leave the south of France for Warrington. After two years at the Catalans Dragons, the Wales international was happy to stay on, but sport is a business, and it is the Wolves who will provide his next contract.
Yet for the 32-year old life could already have looked very different. Relegated from Super League with Widnes four years ago, Dudson had had enough.
“I was seriously thinking about giving up after Widnes went down,” he revealed.
“My wife stopped me from retiring because I thought I was done. She said give yourself one more season and see how you feel, don’t finish on this note. She kept me going and things have panned out for the best so far.”
The cut throat nature of professional sport
Dudson was a mechanical engineering student when he decided to quit university to pursue his rugby league dream.
The decision seemed to be paying dividends after his big break at Wigan 10 years ago, winning the double with the Warriors in 2013. But then things started to go awry, and the fragile and unforgiving nature of a career in elite sport became apparent.
“At Wigan I was 24 and got married, we found out we were expecting, had just bought a house and then when I was on my honeymoon I got a text off one of my friends saying I hear you’ve just signed for Hull KR,” he told the Love Rugby League Podcast.
“I thought that was a bit weird so I made a few calls. I got home, rang Shaun Wane, went for a coffee and all credit to Waney he told me they wanted me to go out on loan as I was down the pecking order.
“I’d just bought a house in Wigan so didn’t want to go on loan to Hull, especially with a new wife and a baby on the way so that is how I ended up going across to Widnes.
“It was a rude awakening. This is professional sport, its pretty ruthless and cut throat so I better have a back up plan. I had left university to play full-time rugby league so I went and did night school at Wigan college. I spent four years doing an accountancy qualification while I was at Widnes so there was something I could slot into.”
Gil Dudson came close to walking away from rugby league
At just 28, Dudson was ready to walk away from the sport; and he says he is not alone at reaching such a crossroads.
“The physical side of things you can deal with to a point,” he explained. “I had back surgery, ankle surgery twice and I was just exhausted and mentally I was over it. When you are rehabbing from an injury it is repetitive, mind-numbing and lonely. When you get a couple back-to-back in the same season it can be quite draining.
“I have friends who play Championship who love rugby league and friends who play Super League who hate rugby league. Some of the top level pros just can’t be doing this, and some of the lower league boys couldn’t be happier.
“Who is to say I wouldn’t have been happier if I had walked away, I’ve had that thought.
“I think the reason I didn’t walk away was fear. I had a young family, I was scared, how was I going to survive, how was I going to pay the bills? But it is better the devil you know than the devil you don’t I guess.”
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A Red Devil in disguise
Dudson admits he is indebted to Salford for giving him back the love for league. Rather than retire he enjoyed two hugely successful years with the Red Devils. He reached a Grand Final in 2019 and a Challenge Cup final the following season.
“Salford revitalized me massively, it was a wake up call,” the Cardiff-born powerhouse said.
“Fortunately things have panned out pretty well. I went to the Grand Final, had a fairytale year at Salford and now couple of years with the family in the south of France.”