INTERVIEW: The tackle that finished John Stankevitch’s career

Neil Barraclough

This is the second part of John Stankevitch’s interview with Rugby League Books ahead of the release of his autobiography ‘Being John Stankevitch’. You can read the first part here.

October 4, 2003 started like any other match day for John Stankevitch.

The St Helens forward was preparing for a Super League play-off with Wigan Warriors.

Having already established himself in Ian Millward’s side, Stankevitch looked set for a long career at the top of rugby league.

But just 12 hours later, it was all over.


A juddering collision with Wigan’s Craig Smith left Stankevitch facing his worst nightmares.

He recalls: “It was something and nothing. If you watch it back on video, you’d think it was a heavy tackle, but not a career-ender.

“I came off the line pretty quick and Craig Smith ran at me full pelt to bust the line.

“I dropped to hit him under the ball, and as I dropped his knee raised and went straight on to the bone on my shoulder.”

He adds: “I dislocated my shoulder down, rather than back or forward, which meant I severed all the nerves in my neck and shoulder.

“I had 10 months’ rehab and went to see some nerve specialists. They came to the conclusion that there was nothing they could do.

“One of the main nerves had snapped and they said it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack if they went trying to find it.

“In 2004 the doctor said I needed to finish playing, that I wasn’t going to improve.

“I just thought, ‘bollocks to that, I need to carry on because I’ve got a family to support’.”


In a desperate bid to prove his fitness and defy medical logic, Stankevitch initially refused to give in.

He said: “St Helens had offered me a new deal, but on less money than I was already on.

“I ended up going to Widnes for the 2005 season. I had a good pre-season, trained my arse off and felt fit – but I’d done no contact work at that point.

“As soon as that came along, my shoulder just got weaker and weaker.

“The biggest thing that went was my mental side of things. I’d lost that edge because tackling was such a big part of the game. I’d lost my confidence.”

In August 2005, Stankevitch eventually conceded defeat and retired from a playing career that had promised so much.

Being John Stankevitch’, published by League Publications Ltd, is out now. You can buy it here.