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Behind the scenes at St Helens and Wigan Warriors

Posted on October 7th, 2015

We may be one happy team, here at Harris & Ross, but sometimes, we stand divided. Take our physios, Becky Hodgkiss and Joey Hayes.

Becky spent 8 seasons as the head physiotherapist at Wigan Warriors, while just down the road, Joey Hayes took St Helens to the Grand Final for 4 consecutive years.

In 2014, they went head-to-head. Wigan v St Helens. Becky v Joey.

So ahead of this year’s final, we spoke to them both about their experiences behind-the-scenes of two of the country’s biggest Rugby League sides.

Joey Hayes – Saints

So, what’s it like being a physiotherapist for a professional rugby league team?

Joey HayesIf I had to sum it up in a word, it would be “compromise”. You can talk to a pro-rugby player until you are blue in the face, but they just want to be on that pitch competing. It is hard enough to get them off the pitch when they are injured, never mind advising them that waiting another week will reduce the risk of re-injury.

Fans often think that there are a lot of injuries in Rugby League, but they probably only hear about a third of them, those being the most serious. The majority of issues are managed by altering training loads to allow them to recover as much as possible prior to the next game, but this often results in missed training; which pleases the coaches no end!

Coaches can’t make effective changes to playing strategies without having their squads on the training park and they can’t be as competitive without the bulk of their first choice players – hence the compromise.

Other sports have the luxury of large squad rosters, or their sports don’t involve as much contact trauma. Rugby League has the highest number of repeat high intensity efforts when compared to Football and Aussie Rules. When this is combined with the tissue damage from collisions, the players’ bodies are in dire need of recovery time before playing again. Studies have shown that the average player requires 7-8 days to fully recover from 80 minutes, this time is extended if they have high intensity training during that period too.

So players end up playing in various states of fatigue – this varies from player to player and between positions. In the ideal world, each player would have an individual recovery plan tailored to their activity profile and game loads, but this is often not practical in a team setting or from a staffing/facilities point of view.

This is where the physio sits – managing short and long term injuries and their rehabilitation; trying to minimise injury risk with tailored pre-habilitation programmes; and monitoring players for signs of possible breakdown.

In the run up to the Grand Final everybody wants to play – even players that have been ruled out for the season want to play!!!

The playoffs are tough hard-fought knock out games at the end of a long season and most players are carrying one or two minor injuries by this stage. The bodies and minds are fatigued but the chance of a trip to Old Trafford is like the light at the end of the tunnel, it makes the 32 plus matches worthwhile. The players push through and avoid visiting the medical team wherever possible at this stage, in case a problem is found that may risk their chances of a final spot.

Come final day anything can and does happen – some players thrive under the pressure, for others it can be too much. With family and friends, a TV audience, a huge crowd watching them and playing in THAT stadium, they’ve gone through the media build up and they now line up in the tunnel…you can hear and feel the buzz from the waiting crowd…the announcer calls the teams out and the fireworks go off…the players run through the smoke to the sound of the crowd’s cheers! It must be the closest you could get in this modern age to running out into the Colosseum…it’s game time!

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Becky Hodgkiss – Warriors

Harris & Ross-432With 8 seasons at Wigan Warriors, Becky was only too aware of the rivalry as the two sides met up.
In my last 9 years in Rugby League at both Widnes Vikings and Wigan Warriors RLFC, I have sat on the side line of many a game. From the cow sheds of Whitehaven on a freezing Sunday in January, for a pre-season friendly; to the immense gladiatorial arena that is the Allianz Stadium in Sydney for the 2014 World Club Challenge and all things in between.

Rugby League is one of the toughest sports a human body can participate in, it not only requires incredible endurance, but also skill, strength, power and a tenacity of spirit unrivalled by many other sports and as such, places massive demands on all areas of the body. I cannot think of an area of the body that is left unscathed in a tough game of rugby league, every body part from the top of the skull to the tip of a toe is vulnerable to injury and yet carry after carry, tackle after tackle, they carry on and are trained and drilled to carry on and not show any pain to the opposition so as not to expose weakness.

There is a long and troubled history between Wigan Warriors and St Helens. They’re both Rugby League towns and the meeting of the two in a local derby game is always likely to set fireworks in action, but when this is combined with the pressure of a big Grand Final game and playing for the title of the best team in the Super League that year, then the tension can really mount, occasionally this uncovers the frailty of human nature and emotions can bubble over.

The players are prepped to run hard, play tough and leave nothing on the field, once that 80 minute stretch is over they can revel in the glory or have 4 long months to lick their wounds before the next season comes around, this inevitably leads to a vast array of injuries.

  • Neck injuries
  • Fractured eye sockets
  • ‘stingers or burners’
  • Dislocated shoulders
  • Labral tears
  • Collar bone injuries ( AC joint /SC joint / fractures)
  • Pectoral and Bicep Ruptures
  • Dislocated elbows
  • Fractured bones
  • Lower back injuries
  • Cruciate Ligament injuries
  • Muscle tears
  • Collateral ligament injuries
  • Achilles Tendon Ruptures
  • Ankle ligament injuries
  • Ankle Syndesmosis Injury

There are too many to mention and I have seen them and dealt with them all both on and off the pitch. Sometimes the players are able to carry on until the end of the game, sometimes they are removed just for that half of the game and other times their campaign ends there for that year and there is a long road to recovery ahead.

Our job as medics on game day is to assess, help and then advise players as to what is and what is not safe to continue with, for both their career and their future as people. Sometimes these are tough decisions to make but they are always made in the best interest of players.  

Each team has their own back room support staff including physiotherapists and doctors, which have to be present in order for the game to take place and we are ALL trained in the provision of emergency aid, and we have to update this training every 2 years.

As battle commences, everyone, whether they’re on or off the pitch, gets caught up in the moment, but as medics it is our job to stay calm and be as neutral as possible.

It commonly happens that we are called upon to help our medical colleagues from the opposition and we do so without hesitation. So, on paper Joey Hayes and I should be avid enemies, I can assure you we are not and in fact we have both come to each other’s aid on many occasions and have been grateful for each other’s support in the trenches as it were, on those cold dark nights when it is throwing down with rain and we are up to our eyeballs in mud and blood stained faces.

We now hope to bring our skills and knowledge to Harris and Ross and pass those skills onto our private patients to advance their recovery to the best of our ability.

Becky and Joey work across all Harris & Ross locations; Wilmslow, Manchester, Altrincham and Wigan, so call us today if you would like their expert opinion of any injury you may be carrying. There’s not much these guys haven’t treated!

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