Paul Prescott
Paul Prescott

TWO days ago, I stood up in front of my team-mates and uttered the words every athlete dreads - that my playing career was over.

I’d seen others do it, and I didn’t think I’d have to do it. Not yet, anyway. Not for a few years.

But a visit to a specialist a few days earlier had made the decision for me.

I had an idea before surgery on my spine in March that there was a chance I may have to call it a day.

When I returned to see him, he said that – though the surgery had been relatively successful – if I played on, it could have massive implications for the rest of my life.

Ultimately, he left me with no choice.

It was a difficult day. I spoke to my girlfriend and my family. Spoke to Shaun Wane, Kris Radlinski and Ian Lenagan. They were all great. They were disappointed for me, and helped me adjust to the fact that I wouldn’t be playing for Wigan again.

When you play rugby league at this level, you become blinkered to what others would find normally acceptable. I’d say 50 per cent of the time, players are managing injuries. Rarely fully fit. Often injected with pain killers before matches.

But it got to a stage where I couldn’t get through training sessions. Couldn’t train. It was so bad, I was struggling to sit and watch the TV.

I’ve had my fair share of injuries throughout my career - I’ve twice had a detached retina - and I’m proud of the way I’ve always got back into the team through hard work during rehab. But with this injury, there was no way back.

I’ve already started reflecting on my career.

I’ve played 10 years for a club I supported as a kid, lined-up alongside some of rugby league’s true greats, played at venues like Old Trafford and Wembley and won a Grand Final and a Challenge Cup. The Grand Final, especially, was a wonderful feeling because it was the culmination of so many years of coming up short in semi-finals.

The fact I played so long in a position where so few homegrown players have been able to establish themselves at the club - prop - only makes the feeling of satisfaction even greater.

The relationship you develop in a sports team is unique; far different to most occupations. You don’t always have to be best mates with every player and you don’t have to see eye to eye, but you develop a respect, a bond which is hard to describe and impossible to replace.

I don’t like saying it’s the ‘banter’ that I’ll miss. That word is too cliched, suggesting we’re not serious about what we do.

No. It’s the camaraderie.

Sure, when Wigan are playing Leeds or St Helens, I’ll watch it and wish I was still out there.

Running. Tackling. Hurting. Contributing.

But the camaraderie, that feeling of being in the team, will be hard to substitute. Since the news was made public yesterday, the level of support has been fantastic.

My team-mates have been incredible, and my phone has buzzed regularly, either from a text or email coming in with messages of support from fans, friends, players, ex-players.

They’ve all wished me well for the future, which I really appreciate.

What the future holds, I’m not sure. A few years ago I completed my law degree, and I’m so glad I have that behind me. It’s no guarantee of a future income, but it’s a safety net - no, more than that - a launchpad to something else.

Now, having just been forced to retire at 27, I’m so grateful I have it and I would urge every player, young or old, to complete some sort of education.

I may even undertake further study. I’ve got a few options, and I want to have some time off to consider what I want to do and where I want to go. I have a great affinity for Wigan; it’d be great if I could keep that bond.

In the short-term, I still have my rehab to complete, which I’ll do at the club. So I’ll still be around the boys. I’ll still be offering to help if I can and - yes - I’ll continue writing this column for the Evening Post.

Sure, I’m disappointed, but the overwhelming emotion right now is one of immense pride. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to spend a decade playing such a great game, for such a great club.