Birthday boy Paul Sykes, 40, loving life at Dewsbury Rams
Nevertheless, former Bradford Bulls, Wakefield Trinity and England star Paul Sykes would not change a thing – and hopes to play on until beyond his 41st birthday.
The veteran stand-off, who made his Bradford debut in the last century, is still going strong captaining Dewsbury in the Championship.
Sykes admits he does not have any secret formula for his remarkable longevity in one of the most brutal of sports.
“I’m not sure; I just try to stay injury-free and look after myself,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“I’ve always had little niggles but, aside from that kidney issue (he had almost a third of it removed after suffering an injury for Harlequins in 2006) I’ve only really had knee ops and shoulder ops for wear and tear.
“I make sure I always warm-up properly.
“I don’t just jump straight into activities.
“A lot of the young lads start kicking balls about but I always make sure I’m warmed up.
“And I’m still enjoying it. I’ve always said as long as I’m still fit and healthy and still enjoying it, why not carry on?”
A talented and versatile operator, who represented England at the 2008 World Cup and still boasts a booming left boot, Sykes joined Dewsbury in 2016 after a season at Featherstone Rovers following the culmination of his Super League career with Wakefield.
“I always said if I ever finished full-time rugby I’d like to finish off here,” he said, about his hometown club.
“I’ve been here a while now and enjoyed every minute.
“This year has been a bit bumpy with Covid and all the disruption but I want to finish my career here.
“I don’t know if they want to keep me but I’m thinking about going around again.
“I feel fit and I think I’m approaching 500 games so that’d be a nice milestone to get.
“I don’t think many clubs are signing at the moment – they’re still not sure on the funding situation next season – but I’m sure I’ll have a chat with them in the next month or two and see where we’re at.”
One of Sykes’s stock phrases when chatting with people is “old bean” but does he feel like one himself now he turns 40?
“Yes, I do, when I’m in training and see some of these young lads coming through,” said the player, who has drifted to and from full-back, centre and No 6 since debuting for Bulls aged 17 in 1999.
“I just try and fit in like one of them and there is always good banter. I get called Grandad and by the majority of them as well!
“But I still put my body on the line and as long as I can do that I feel like I’m in the right place.”
Few players manage to play on professionally into their forties.
In Super League, Sykes’s former Bulls team-mate Steve Menzies was 39 when the Australian legend played his final game for Catalans Dragons in 2013.
Similarly, his former England colleague Gareth Ellis was 39 when he retired – for a second time – at Hull FC last term.
But cult-hero Kiwi prop Fuifui Moimoi is still playing for Rochdale Hornets in League 1 at the age of 41. Sykes conceded: “He’s a machine. Although he’ll get spelled. I’m not bigging myself up but I play 80 minutes!
“To play in the middle at that age, though, is no mean feat in itself.”
Meanwhile, Sykes – who trains with Rams on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday evenings – works for HSL Chairs in Dewsbury and explained: “I’ve been there six years now.
“I started off in the factory doing little bits of upholstery but then I went on to do some driving for them before going back into the factory on quality control.
“Some of my family work here so they got me on. It was quite difficult at first after full-time rugby but it’s a good company to work for.”
He added: “Every club I’ve been to I’ve made great friends.
“To go on and play for England and earn a cap for Great Britain, that was pretty special.
“Probably my only regret is not winning anything. Not winning a major trophy. But, then again, still playing now at 40 feels as good as anything.”