Former Man of Steel Pat Richards says fans often don’t understand the sacrifices rugby league players make, as he reflects on six years out of the sport.
The former Wigan winger, a Grand Final winner in both 2010 and 2013, says rugby league gave him the best experiences of his life but also some of the toughest, and believes the investment that players put into the game often goes unrecognised.
Still only 40, Richards retired in 2016 and now works outside of the sport selling machinery, alongside an ambassadorial role with former club Wests Tigers with whom he won the NRL Grand Final in 2005.
And speaking exclusively to the Love Rugby League Podcast, Richards opened up on the reality of life as a professional rugby league player.
“It’s not just the 30 games a season, it’s the training sessions, preparing for it,” Richards said.
“The fans may see a player and bag them, but they don’t quite understand the sacrifices and just how much they put their body on the line.
“In my 16 or 17 seasons I averaged one operation a year so have had 16 or 17 operations. But I wouldn’t change anything. I loved it, there is a price to pay to play at that level for so long but the rewards are so good. You meet lifelong friends and have great memories.
“Everyone starts playing for fun. When I started it was all about fun and it was the whole way through, but when you get serious you have to make sacrifices and have that conversation with yourself.
“Am I willing to put everything on the line, for a dream?”
Pat Richards on life lessons rugby league has taught him
Richards believes many players will learn lessons from a career in league that will set them up for later life, and has urged every current professional to think about their next step.
“I had no experience in any work life,” he explained. “In the NRL I debuted at 18 and then didn’t get my first job until I was 34.
“I was a bit worried about how I would transition into normal life but I did take a lot of lessons with me from my career.
“Being punctual, honest, working hard, dealing with ups and downs. If something happens I don’t really get phased by it now, I just know I need to reset and set goals. Everything is relatable. I feel fortunate to have played in five finals and won all of them so I have no regrets at all.”