Former Castleford Tigers and Wakefield Trinity forward Craig Huby left to tackle growing fears of dementia

AS a prop who played almost 300 professional rugby league games – enduring plenty of concussions and still suffering blurred vision and headaches – Craig Huby admits worrying about his health after seeing former rugby union players being diagnosed with early-onset dementia.

Concussion fears: Craig Huby. Picture: SWPix

The former Castleford Tigers forward is just 34 but quit the game more than a year ago after injury – a chronic shoulder issue, nothing head-related – forced him into early retirement whilst with Wakefield Trinity.

A number of former union internationals, including 42-year-old England World Cup-winning hooker Steve Thompson and Wales flanker Alix Popham, 41, are among those who have lodged a lawsuit against the sport for failing to provide sufficient protection from the risks caused by concussion.

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Some have been diagnosed with early-onset dementia and there are a range of other brain injuries also listed.

It would be no surprise if some rugby league players joined the legal battle.

The scary scenarios – Thompson cannot recollect anything from the 2003 World Cup final win in Sydney – resonate with Huby, who now runs a cafe in his home-town Castleford.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, he said: “Funnily enough, I was just talking about this the other day. I went to see Lee Wood, our old masseuse at Cas’, and he was mentioning some stuff which I just don’t remember.

“When you do get knocked out it is hard to remember anything around it and he actually reminded me of a time when I’d driven to London to play and he’d driven my car back after I’d got knocked out. I’d forgotten about that incident – it will have been 12 years ago or so – but it just reminded me of how much you do put yourself through.”

Huby, who played for Tigers at Wembley in the 2014 Challenge Cup final, says he suffered “easily more than 10” concussions during his career which started with him making his debut with Castleford at the age of 17.

“I remember in 2005 and, I think, a National League One semi-final at Whitehaven,” he added.

“I got knocked out that day but ended up staying on the field and breaking my thumb.

“I don’t think the tests were as thorough as they are now.

“But there’s been loads of times where I remember just coming straight home after games and going to lie in a dark room as my head was just pounding.”

Reading Thompson’s story, Huby certainly recognises some of the symptoms linked with early-onset dementia.

He said: “Yes. There’s definitely some bits and pieces there. My days are different now (since retiring) and I have to think more about what I need and what I’m doing.

“I do definitely forget quite a bit of stuff. Whether that’s just to do with not being as switched on any more or not training as much – being physically and mentally fit – or whether it is to do with having that many blows to my head being a prop forward, you don’t know.

“It is scary when you see people like Steve Thompson coming out and saying what he did especially when we’ve been in a similar sport to them. The impact (in collisions) is probably even greater in league than in union.”

Asked if early-onset dementia worries him, Huby, who played almost 200 games for Castleford before joining Huddersfield Giants in 2015 and switching to Trinity two years later, said: “Yes.

“Especially having kids, it definitely does.

“You want to be around for as long as possible. At the time you are not thinking about years down the line or thinking about what potentially might happen.

“I’m only 18 months out of the game and I’m having recurring problems with other injuries which, touch wood, at the minute, any concussions I’ve had have not played a major part.

“I do get headaches and little bits of blurred vision but, for me, that side of it is probably all right.

“It’s the other side of it; my knee and shoulder injuries that I’m struggling with.”

However, Huby admits it is hard to know what the right answer to the dementia problem is – “we know what we sign up for” – and he would still encourage children to play.

“As long as the people around it are doing everything possible to protect people,” he added.

“Everyone wants to play. I’ve had a great career doing something I started when I was four just as a hobby. And I think with most sports there’s a danger.”

With a potentially landmark legal case to come, both codes – and, indeed, all contact sports –will watch with interest.

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