He was the ultimate franchise figure during his playing days – now big Eorl Crabtree does all of his talking off the pitch.
The 34-year-old, nephew of famous professional wrestler Shirley ‘Big Daddy’ Crabtree, is now trying to make an impact for Huddersfield Giants as a club ambassador and in their commercial department.
Standing at 6ft 5 in with long blonde hair, you can’t say that Crabtree doesn’t stand out.
And he never tried not to during a playing career that took in 423 games for the Giants over a 17 year period, which also included a more than credible 14 caps for England.
Modest, softly spoken and very considered, Crabtree is the perfect fit for an ambassadorial role, and that saw him get involved with the State of Mind charity in a similar vein five or so years ago.
Next weekend sees State of Mind take over Super League once again, for the seventh successive year, as rugby league continues to lead the way in the world of sport for its support of mental health and wellbeing.
Some may remember Crabtree as the main face of the Trojan Horse video, used to promote the State of Mind themed Super League round back in 2013, which included several other Super League stars.
“It was fantastic from my point of view to be able to represent something I am actually passionate about.
“I believe in mental health and the issues that are involved, especially within rugby players, and I think I sort of witnessed that myself from my own personal past, as in coming through as a youngster and trying to develop and struggling at times.
“I got through the other side and I have an understanding of what it feels like for some people, so to head up that video for me personally was a massive achievement but also something I was massively proud of.”
The theme of this year’s State of Mind round is that of loss, and helping people to deal with it – be it in a relationship, a job, income, a home or a bereavement.
“I think everyone in life in general has issues. Sometimes it affects people in different ways. For me, it affected me in a way that I actually struggled to want to carry on being a rugby player and I was wondering what to do with my life.
“But I managed to get through the other side of that, so I know how it feels. So when people talk about these kind of issues and mental health issues, I can relate to them because I’ve been through some dark times as well.
“I’d never say I was particularly depressed or anything, but if I’d have got worse I could see myself in a bit of bother.
“Fortunately, I have learned from it and I’m a much stronger person for it as well.”
Crabtree signed for Huddersfield on his 17th birthday and made his debut for the club in 2001. He scored 25 tries in 37 league and cup games from centre in his breakthrough year the following season, before making the move to the pack.
Like many young players, there was a time where he wasn’t sure whether he could make a career out of the game, but he ended up being one of the fortunate ones who was able to kick on and establish himself in the first team.
“Growing up can help, as a lot of it does come with age. You mature and you’re learning and you probably think about things as you get older.
“I’ve done that. My whole perspective on life has changed since being a 20-year-old rugby player – I’m now a 34-year-old retired rugby player and I’m a lot happier with my life and how I feel about myself.
“I’ve accepted myself and I’m kind of embracing the future and enjoying pretty much every minute of it.”
In 2013, Crabtree was part of the Huddersfield team that secured the League Leaders’ Shield, and he was named in the Super League Dream Team of that year.
Despite his stellar career, Crabtree admits he doesn’t miss playing one bit.
For all players, what happens after their career can be a worry. Awareness has been raised in recent years for preparing players for retirement, particularly through the now defunct League13 and Rugby League Cares.
“For the last five years, I prepared myself for it mentally.
“I did that simply by doing more and preparing for it, and actually trying to look for what I wanted to do in the future.
“I always set with Huddersfield, but I’ve done plenty of other stuff as well, making sure I had qualifications, and that also just helps you mentally as much as anything.
“I had a couple of job offers, both within and outside rugby league, and it’s probably because I put myself out there.
“There’s not one bit of me that’s really concerned about being retired. I’ve embraced it, I’ve actually loved finishing. It’s not how I wanted to finish it, I wanted to play my last year out, but it didn’t happen.
“But again, I think as you get older you realise that these things do happen so you need to look towards the future and not at the past, and embrace what’s in front of you.
“I can understand people so in love with the game and that’s all they’ve ever done that do struggle coming out of it, so I do feel sorry for them and what they go through because it must be really tough. I’m lucky.”
Crabtree’s role at Huddersfield sees him dealing with sponsors, hospitality, game day and ticket sales. He also looks after the players, making sure they get to promos and do their work in the community.
He added: “We’ve been discussing about anything else they want to do add too – it’s literally an endless job! Getting out and seeing people is a busy job, but it’s as busy as you make it.”