Leeds Rhinos exclusive: James Bentley on his sober journey, weight loss and his renewed sense of purpose

Ross Heppenstall
James Bentley Leeds Rhinos Alamy

When his Road to Damascus moment arrived four months ago, James Bentley knew he had to change.

The Leeds Rhinos star’s epiphany came at the end of last season with the realisation that his drinking habits were leading him down a path of self-destruction.

Under the influence of alcohol, the rugged back-rower would often land himself in trouble.

Bentley infamously clashed with Victor Radley at an England team hotel following their World Cup defeat to Samoa back in 2022.

But it went deeper. His relationships with friends and family were being adversely affected too – all because of his boozing.

And so he made a vow: to abstain from alcohol for good.

“It was affecting all aspects of my life and putting me in a bad place,” Bentley told Love Rugby League at Leeds’ pre-season media day on Wednesday.

“I was doing silly things and getting myself into trouble, so they were dark times.

“In the end I thought ‘that’s it, that’s enough for me now’.

“Everyone’s different aren’t they? Some people can go out and have a few beers.

“But for me it got the point where it was out of control and affecting everything – including my rugby.

“I wanted to move forward and not keep doing that same thing anymore.

“Since I made the decision at the end of last season, I’ve not looked back.”

The rugged Yorkshireman has had periods in his life where he has not touched a drop.

“I’d stop for so long but then I’d go back to it,” he admitted.

“This time, though, I decided I want to change my life and not keep living in that same cycle.

“It’s been just over four months now, so I’m really proud of myself.”

James Bentley: ‘Going sober has allowed me to focus on so many other areas of my life, which I’m really happy with’

James Bentley Ireland Alamy James Bentley in action for Ireland at the World Cup (Alamy)

The boyhood Rhinos fan from Morley, who grew up idolising the Golden Generation team who enjoyed serial Grand Final successes, is now entering his third season as a Leeds player.

Still only 26, Bentley is in tip-top condition after kicking the booze into touch, having lost a stone since going sober.

The former Bradford Bulls and St Helens back-rower revealed: “I’m in best shape of my life now after stopping drinking.

“I’ve lost over six kilos in weight and there has been a massive change in my body composition.

“Going sober has allowed me to focus on so many other areas of my life, which I’m really happy with.

“Have I felt the physical benefits? Definitely.

“I feel so much better and my energy levels have gone through the roof.

“I’m so much more productive with my time and I’m more confident in different situations.

“I’m growing my own business away from rugby, so life in general is just a lot better.”

In early January, Bentley went public about being sober for 100 days via his social media.

He believes his story can inspire others, adding: “I’m really proud of how far I’ve come and it feels ages ago since I last had a drink.

“It was definitely tough to do at the start because I went on holiday for a week – it was all-inclusive and my birthday too!

“But I didn’t drink at all when normally I would have done.

“I sort of knew, if I did that, I would be sound and that I was on a good path.”

Leeds Rhinos ‘really supportive’ of Ireland star’s sober journey

Bentley said the backing of his friends and family – and from many within Headingley – had been important in his battle to stay sober.

Head of player welfare Nigel O’Flaherty-Johnston, head coach Rohan Smith and chief executive Gary Hetherington have been right behind him.

“I just can’t thank the club enough for their support through this time,” added Ireland international Bentley.

“I told them what I was doing (going sober) and Nige, Rohan and Gary have been really supportive.

“But I want to use this to my advantage now because I’ve got myself in the best shape possible.

“I’m really looking forward to playing all our new signings and the young kids we’ve got coming through.

“I’m looking forward to the new season and doing something special with these boys.”

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