In this edition of Life after League, we caught up with former Super League and Rochdale winger Chris Riley.
The 30-year-old made his Super League debut in 2005 at the age of 17 for hometown club Warrington after coming through the academy ranks. In the same year, he also represented England Academy.
Riley made 180 appearances for the Wolves over ten seasons and won three Challenge Cup titles. He also made two Grand Final appearances. Riley is also the third highest try scorer for Warrington.
The winger was a part of a reshuffle at Warrington and left the club alongside Trent Waterhouse, Danny Bridge and Gavin Bennion. He joined Wakefield in 2014 and bagged 11 tries in 25 appearances for the West Yorkshire side.
In 2016, he joined Rochdale Hornets in League One and helped them gain promotion, scoring the match-winning try in their play-off final against Toulouse Olympique on French soil.
However, he left the club the following year.
Whilst not retired just yet, we caught up with Chris to see how life away from the sport is treating him…
Chris, what would you say is your career highlight?
“I would probably say the first ever Challenge Cup victory. I think it was the first piece of silverware for the club in 35 years so it was massive to be a part of it all.”
You were a part of a promotion-winning Rochdale side. How did you find your two years at the club?
“It’s really up there with the achievements with Warrington. I think mostly because we were a part-time team and everyone had written us off. We were predicted to only finish top five so to finish 2nd and to beat Toulouse in their own back garden was great. We were something like 7/1 underdogs so it made it extra special. It was a good group down at Rochdale doing well with the money that they had. They’re not the richest club so to go against full-time Toulouse was one of the best wins of my career. I’m guessing if you ask Alan Kilshaw and any of the boys that will be one of their favourites as well.”
Do you remember your debut?
“When I was brought up, my dad and granddad supported Wigan so I supported them for few years. The rest of my family supported Warrington. When I played amateur I started to represent Warrington and I supported them a lot more. I signed my first semi-professional contract at 16 and within the year I went full-time and made my debut against Huddersfield. I remember that I was in the frame to play that week and I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to tell my family. At that time I didn’t think I was that physically ready as I was skinny but I was never going to say no to make my debut and although we didn’t get the result, it was a big milestone to make my debut.
“When I finished high school I started working with uncle at a Carlsberg brewery stacking barrels up, I was training at the same time and not long after I finished working, I started to concentrate on rugby and it happened so quick from playing for the Under-18s and Under-20s and then reserve grade to making debut. I wasn’t even full-time so after that season I signed full-time at 18.”
How have you found your time away from the playing field?
“I’ve not officially retired from the sport. I think once I left Warrington a little bit of enjoyment of the game went a little. I refreshed myself with Wakefield and it was nice to spend some time away from Warrington where I spent nine years. At the back end of my time at Wakefield, I didn’t really enjoy the rugby as much as I thought. I finished with Wakefield and started to look away from rugby. I started my CV and applied at Warrington Foundation as well as my job now. I’ve always been a caring person and I fell on my feet in this line of work.”
What career path did you take after Wakefield?
“I care for people with autism. My brother who is five years younger than me, at three he had a brain tumour which obviously rocked him off his feet. He spent a lot of time in hospitals having operations and treatments and then at home having a lot of time spent with my mum. Watching my brother grow up with life troubles and seeing him battle through that to see him doing so well now as an adult is fantastic. Alongside my time at Warrington, I did a lot of foundation work and I met a lot of people with learning difficulties and disabilities. When I did sport activities and work in the community, it brought so much enjoyment. Seeing smiles on people’s faces when introducing sport or activities was fantastic. Seeing people who haven’t got the advantages like myself and they crack on with life and to see their smiles made me feel good. Once I finished with Wakefield I looked for work and had a friend who worked at the company ‘Bright Futures’ and he recommended it to me and said ‘you’ll love working at this place’ and so I applied for the job and was successful and I haven’t looked back. I’ve been here two-and-a-half years.”
Will we ever see you back on the field?
“I’m never gonna say never in terms that I haven’t officially retired. In my head I needed a break from the sport. I probably slacked in a few areas and wasn’t as professional as I needed to be in terms of looking after myself as a professional at the back end of my time at Rochdale. My body started to hurt and ache and it took longer to recover and I found it tough balancing life with work and a little family. I have a lot of respect to players who have done part-time rugby alongside their jobs. It’s tough with the hours of commitment and I had been very lucky to have a long career and to be full-time but once I was part-time, I found it tough. Since having a break from rugby in October, it’s been nice to spend time with my family and friends and not having to diet and I can have a drink. Watching this season, I have got the buzz back. I’m not retiring, more than anything I need to start getting myself fit, getting to the gym, training and eat healthy. Who knows, maybe next season. I have another year or two. It’s not a full decision, I will speak to my wife and family and think about it but at the moment I’m quite contempt with doing my job and doing my best there. Who knows what the future holds.
“I promised myself to have a break away. We didn’t come to an agreement [at Rochdale] and parted that and since then I’ve had a really good break and I am enjoying family time and concentrating on work. I’m studying towards an NVQ level three for work and I enjoyed having that break but watching games recently has given me the buzz. I could be back out there so I am having a good think about my next move. I do miss it.”
Do you still keep up with Warrington?
“When I first left they had a couple of chances at silverware and went stale last season. It was sad to see Tony Smith leave after a long career. He was a good coach who taught me a lot of things on and off the field. I have a lot of respect for Tony but it came to a point when it needed bit of a change. I have some old friends there; (Mike) Cooper, (Chris) Hill and (Stefan) Ratchford to name a few and it’s nice to see them playing well. I try and watch a few games and sometimes go to the stadium and I’ve been impressed. They had a slow start but the way they’ve played over last few months has been good and hopefully they can finish top four and break the hoodoo.”