Rugby League Cares is proud to announce the launch of a ground-breaking new project that will see the sport of rugby league take the lead in the field of fostering good brain health in players.

The Rugby League Cares Brain Health Fund has been established to allow the implementation of a far-reaching education and support programme for both current and retired rugby league players.

The aim of the fund is to equip players and their families with the knowledge they need to sustain good brain health during their careers, and to provide important support for those who have been diagnosed with neurological conditions, both pre- and post-retirement.

Working with a wide range of organisations including the Rugby Football League and its member clubs, plus medical experts, the independent charity RL Cares has already begun to roll out a comprehensive education programme to current players about this important aspect of their health.

Concerns around the long-term effects of head injuries in contact sports have increased in recent years in the light of advances in scientific research. The RL Cares Brain Health Fund will enable the sport to share latest developments in this emerging field so that players can make informed choices.

The fund will also provide advice to players suffering poor brain health, and to their families, such as signposting to support from statutory services and, should resources allow, respite care.

Steve McCormack, Director of Welfare at RL Cares, has said: “The RL Cares Brain Health Fund is a significant first for sport in this country and once again puts rugby league at the forefront of innovation and best practice when it comes to player welfare.

“Rugby league is now safer to play than it has ever been but, like every contact sport, there are inherent risks in taking part.

“The Brain Health Fund will help us provide players with the information and advice they need to mitigate those risks, to make informed choices about their own health, and to be as healthy as they can be.

“The brain health workshops that we’ve begun delivering to Super League clubs have been enthusiastically received by the playing community and that programme will expand as the Brain Health Fund grows.

“We also want to help the families of current and retired players who are experiencing poor brain health: we aim to put together a comprehensive package of support and build on the sport’s proud record of looking after its own.”

McCormack is a member of the sport’s Brain Health Steering Group which also features high level medical experts, including Prof Chris Brookes, Dr Gemma Phillips and Prof Ben Jones, plus RL Cares trustee Kevin Sinfield OBE.

Kevin Sinfield MBE, RL Cares trustee and former player, has added: “Education players about brain health is massively important: they spend their careers trying to look after every part of their bodies but often neglect the brain and their own heads.

“We can change the path for some people by providing the support they need to become better, but we can also support ourselves to be better too.

“Anything we can do to help current and former players understand that there are things they can do to make the path ahead a better path is to be welcomed.

“Education is vital, both for players and their families. Players need to help themselves because they have to be accountable and responsible for their own careers and health.

“The support for families is really important. Through my work with the MND community I understand the value of a good support network.

“Not only from a love and care perspective, but friendship and socially: there will be times when things aren’t going to plan and things might seem to be off-track, having a friendly face with some clear, simple advice is a massive help.

“That’s where RL Cares and the Brain Health Fund have an important role to play.”

Prof Chris Brookes, who has been involved in the sport for almost 30 years as team doctor with Great Britain, England and Wigan, said the RL Cares Brain Health Fund is a continuation of the sport’s proactive approach to player welfare.

He said:“I am really proud of the way in which rugby league has led the way in the field of player welfare.

“Through the work of RL Cares, player welfare is first and foremost at every club and the Brain Health Fund is another step forward in our commitment to make the game as safe as it can be.

“Players have always had worries about their health, especially when they suffer a brain trauma like concussion, and the Brain Health Fund will ensure that not only will they understand more, they will also be able to speak to experts about their concerns and anxieties.”

The brain health programme will be funded by voluntary donations and an active fundraising campaign of events run by Rugby League Cares.

To support the RL Cares Brain Health Fund, or for more information, please visit

Offload programme highlighted as a sporting sensation in recent major study

Rugby League Cares’ health programme Offload – which Salford Red Devils are a founding member of – has been praised for its engagement with men and mental wellbeing, in a major academic study.

The research, carried out by Edge Hill University, can be found here and outlines the programme’s success in changing and saving lives, providing the men involved with a welcoming space to talk about their mental health.

Salford Red Devils Foundation are partnered with Rugby League Cares and State of Mind, who also support Offload, to give local men the opportunity to go behind the scenes of rugby league, learn the mental fitness techniques of professional players and be supported to develop their own winning mindset.

Offload is a 10-fixture season at the A J Bell stadium where men join forces with rugby league players, past and present, to understand the challenges of the game. The ability to deal with injury, moving to a new club, tactical changes, retirement and new careers beyond the game are discussed along with a player’s ability to juggle the everyday demands of life whilst performing at the top level.

Speaking on the Offload programme, Salford Red Devils foundation director Neil Blackburn said: This programme has been extremely successful and really made a substantial difference to our local community. We have engaged with hundreds of men who would not have engaged with traditional medicalised institutions. It has been a pleasure working with RLCares and other partners on this highly rewarding programme.

Our physical and mental health is so important, especially in such uncertain times. Programmes such as Offload are an essential part of the local provision an enhance the existing services.”

Sport and physical activity professor at Edge Hill University, Andy Smith, one of the three researchers into the Offload programme, said: “There has been a rapid growth in community sport and mental health programmes for men, but the key design characteristics of these programmes, and the roles played by delivery staff in their conception and development, have not yet been systematically or widely studied. Our research on the Offload programme begins to rectify this.

“Among other things, our analysis showed that men clearly preferred a non-clinical approach to discussing their mental health, often in less stigmatising environments like professional sports stadia, and using sporting analogies to support self-care.

“Having the sessions led by former professional sports people working alongside mental health and community sport experts made it a safe space and allowed participants to express themselves fully. This, in turn, provided great outcomes for the men involved.”

One participant in the programme said: “Some of them [the presenters] are people I’ve admired because I am a rugby league fan. When I’ve seen what they’ve been through, it made it easier for me to offload my problems in front of a few people, which I wouldn’t have done before.”

Emma Goldsmith, head of community at Rugby League Cares, said: “The power sport has to transform the lives of participants is well documented but the success we have seen in making transformational change to the quality of life of the men who have engaged in Offload is remarkable.

Offload is enabling us to connect with an audience that health service providers have traditionally found difficult to reach: the feedback we receive from participants is consistently positive and uplifting, and it’s a privilege for everyone at RL Cares to know we’re making such a difference.”

To find out more on how to get involved in Salford’s Offload programmes, email:

Community | Paul Highton on the UK Red Ride to Wembley

He’s grown accustomed to going the extra mile for Rugby League Cares and in August Paul Highton will once again attempt to go the distance for the charity on the UK Red Ride to Wembley.
The former Salford, Halifax, Oldham and Wales back row is the seventh Rugby League international to sign up for our epic fundraiser, which sees 26 riders cycling over 300 off-road miles from Old Trafford to the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final.
Paul was a one of 12 riders who completed the inaugural Ride to Wembley from Headingley to the national stadium last year, just 12 months after he cycled 3,000 miles from London’s Olympic Stadium to Rio de Janeiro on behalf of RL Cares.
This year he will join Gareth Ellis, Andy Lynch, Robbie Hunter-Paul, Chev Walker, Mick Cassidy and Nathan McAvoy for a challenge which involves avoiding roads wherever possible and cycling along forest trails, canal towpaths, bridleways and the occasional ploughed field.
An eighth former Rugby League international, Keith Senior, will also be involved in the ride driving one of the support vehicles.
“I had a bit of a Steve Redgrave moment last year when we reached the Wembley Legends statue after five gruelling days because I would have given permission for someone to shoot me if they saw me get back on a bike again! However, I’m really looking forward to doing it all again,” said Paul, who is currently the Football and Player Welfare Manager at Salford Red Devils.
“We raised over £20,000 for Rugby League Cares last year and I’m sure we’re going to smash that total this year, which will be brilliant.
“As well as my role with Salford, I help deliver fixtures for RL Cares on their hugely successful Offload men’s wellbeing project and I see at first hand the amazing difference the charity is making.
“Rugby League Cares is not just changing men’s lives, it’s saving lives as well, and to keep doing what it does it needs as many people as possible to get behind the Ride to Wembley.
“If I’m honest, there’s also a purely selfish motive for taking part again: as tough as it was last year, the banter was bang on and I can’t wait for another week of non-stop laughter, despite the saddle soreness and all the nettle stings!”
The 2018 UK Red Ride to Wembley leaves MediaCityUK in Salford at 8am on Monday August 20 and after riding around Old Trafford heads out across the Peak District bound for Wembley. The riders are scheduled to arrive at the Wembley Legends status on the stadium concourse around 2.00pm on Friday August 24, the eve of the 2018 Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final.
If you would like to support the work Rugby League Cares does across the whole sport please sponsor the riders on the 2018 UK Red Ride to Wembley by visiting
Save 10 per cent on tickets for the 2018 Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, August 25 by purchasing before June 19. Tickets start from £20 for adults and can be purchased by calling the Rugby League Ticket Office on 0844 856 1113 or by visiting .

State of Mind | World Record Attempt at Halliwell Jones Stadium

Ahead of the Betfred Super League State of Mind round, an attempt to break the record for the World’s Largest Mental Health lesson will take place at the Halliwell Jones Stadium on Wednesday June 6 (5-7pm).
Fans are being encouraged to come along and help break the current record of 688, achieved in Chennai, India earlier this year.
State of Mind has joined forces with North West Boroughs Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Offload Rugby League and Warrington Wolves for the event.
Former players Danny Sculthorpe, Phil Veivers, Paul Highton, Jimmy Gittins and former referee Ian Smith will be helping to deliver the session.
The lesson will be led by Dr. Phil Cooper MBE (North West Boroughs NHS) from 6pm and will last 35 minutes. There will be pre lesson entertainment from 5pm.
Phil said: “This is a great opportunity to increase awareness of mental fitness and have a great time in a fantastic rugby stadium.”
Emma Goldsmith (Rugby League Cares) who co-ordinates the mental fitness programme running from Warrington Wolves, Widnes Vikings and Salford Red Devils said: “It is going to be a great night to take part in a world record attempt and help people know more about mental health issues in an interactive session in a great location.”
Karl Fitzpatrick, CEO Warrington Wolves, said: “Warrington Wolves are completely behind this world record attempt and try to promote positive mental fitness at every opportunity for all our staff and supporters ”
Rugby league is the only UK sport to theme a round of fixtures around mental fitness, with this year’s round taking place between June 14-17.
Tickets are free and the first 1,000 tickets can be accessed via Eventbrite using the link below:
If you do not wish to register online, you can just turn up on the day.
A State of Mind mental health session exclusive for the media to attend will be held in the build-up to the round on Friday June 1 at the The Salford Stadium, Salford (1pm). All are welcome to attend.

Salford Red Devils Foundation launching two more Offload sessions

The Salford Red Devils Foundation have two new sets of Offload sessions due to begin this week.
Brand-new sessions at Salford University will launch on Wednesday 18th October before a second round of sessions will begin at the Probation Office after a successful first 10-week block.
The Red Devils Foundation are also currently running Monday evening (7pm) sessions at the The Salford Stadium with session 7 due to take place tonight (Monday 16th) around life balance.
There are also two Princes Trust groups currently running with one being based at Walkden 6th Form College and another at Salford City Campus.
Ambassadors for  the sessions include former Red Devil Paul Highton, former Salford Coach Phil Vievers, former Rugby League player Danny Sculthorpe and former Rugby League referee Ian Smith.
Offload is a Big Lottery funded project; being run by a number of partners, led by Salford Red Devils, Warrington Wolves and Widnes Vikings with Rugby League Cares. The project content has been devised by State of Mind and supported by Oddballs.
First half has personal stories and evidence based tools to build mental fitness. The second half is interactive, club based activities.
The sessions cover a range of things such as:

  • Basic mental fitness
  • Coping strategies
  • Stess management techniques
  • Mindfulness
  • Five ways to wellbeing
  • Work-life balance
  • Anger management
  • Emotional resilience
  • Solution focused problem solving

For anyone wishing to get involved or attend the Offload session contact Salford Red Devils Season Tickets for the 2018 season are on sale – full details here.

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