Swinton Lions forward Ben Austin has been forced to retire from the game following specialist medical advice.
The 24-year-old, who was a product of the Wigan Warriors Academy system, picked up an injury against Bradford Bulls in February 2019 – no-one knew at the time that it would be his last.
Austin took a knock to his neck and although he had an operation in February, doctors have advised him to quit the contact sport or risk having another one.
He told the club website: “This is not the news I ever expected to be sharing or coming to terms with, but after a long talk with the surgeon last week he came to the conclusion that if I return to contact sport there’s around a 75% chance that I will need another operation on my neck in one to two years.
“Although my operation was a success in February, on further examination there are two more discs bulging in my neck and spine.
“The surgeon explained that with each procedure the success percentage is severely reduced, and if I did need the other two discs doing there’s a high chance it will be unsuccessful.
“With me having a little boy and a family to provide for its time to look at the bigger picture, I would rather give up rugby, as much as it kills me to do so, rather than run the risk of being unable to play with my son in the future.
“I’m heartbroken as I always had visions of retiring after a long career, but with every door that closes another one opens and I want to take this time thank all the players, coaches and staff I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years.
“Thank you to the clubs I’ve had the chance to represent and the fans who have supported me over the years.”
Swinton coach Stuart Littler was also devastated by the news and paid his own tribute to Austin. He added: “I am absolutely gutted to have to update everyone regards Ben’s unfortunate injury. Ben has been outstanding in his commitment to the Swinton club both on and off the field.
“He has been with us for five years and in that time has developed into a leader within our squad.
“Ben’s decision is totally understandable and we 100% feel that it’s the right one even though we know how much this will hurt him. Ben is a very likeable lad who just loves rugby so this decision was always going to be a hard one.
“As a club we must support Ben and his young family and this is something we intend to do. Ben has not just been a player for us, but is someone who I class as a personal friend. I am sure I speak for everyone involved in our club when I thank Ben for everything he has done for us.
“As I’ve said we will support Ben 100% and he is always welcome down at Swinton. With every negative there is a positive with the right mindset. Things are sometimes sent to challenge us. Ben’s family will also support him through this and I am sure more opportunities will open up for him in the future within whatever avenue he wishes to pursue.
“Thanks Benny, love ya.”