Matt James announces retirement
Sheffield Eagles Club Captain Matt James will retire from rugby league at the end of this season.
James joined the club in 2016 and impressed from the outset, with his strong carries and leadership qualities.
James became the captain in 2017 and has been in the role ever since, helped more recently by vice-captain Anthony Thackeray.
A serious injury at the Summer Bash in 2019 put James out of action for over a year, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic which saw the cancellation of the 2020 season.
James returned to action this year, alongside fellow long-time absentee James Glover, but the prop/loose forward has decided the time is right to hang up the boots.
“It is a strange one really as I started the season, coming back from a long injury, raring to go,” he said.
“We had a long pre-season and I thought I got in quite good shape.
“There were some days where I thought whether I could come back from my injury so I was delighted to make it back.
“I didn’t expect to play the first ten or so games but this (retirement decision) is something that has crept up and came all at once really.
“I have been thinking that it’s taking a lot longer to recover, in general, from games and I have had to use pain relief for every single game and big parts of the week to get through training.
“It’s one of those things that is always in the back of my mind, whether I’m going to injure myself further, so I think it’s better for me to hang the boots up now than to press on for one more year.
“I don’t want to disappoint myself and the team. It’s all well and good being there and trying to lead but you’re pouring from an empty cup if you don’t think you have it in yourself.”
Before joining the Eagles, James was a Super League player with Bradford Bulls, Harlequins RL and Wakefield Trinity before enjoying a spell at Featherstone Rovers in the Championship.
Looking back at those times, the prop added: “It all blends into one really!
“When you start trying to look back, it’s not really been massive standout things but more the teams that you were in and the players that you remember the most.
“The camaraderie is probably going to be one of the biggest things that I’ll miss as I have made some great friends, from the staff to the players and they’ll be friends for life.
“That is the main thing I’ve enjoyed and hopefully I’ll stay in touch with quite a lot of them.”
The Summer Bash injury for James will always be a sore point for everyone associated with the Eagles but looking through his own journey in South Yorkshire, the ex-Wales international has a positive mindset.
“You can go on to a field and get an injury like that at any time,” he said.
“It was an unfortunate thing and sometimes I do think “what if that hadn’t happened”, but it’s taken a lot for me to get back playing this year.
“I’ve accomplished what I wanted to do. When I did the injury, I was 33 and there were people telling me that I was probably done now and that is it (for my career).
“But I kept going and I made it back. I proved to myself, and it’s nothing to do with anyone else, that I could do it.
“With the big struggle I had with the injury and seeing a season out, that’s pretty much what I wanted to do.
“I can leave with my head held high. I’ve tried to give my all for the club since I signed.
“We have had ups and downs, I’ve had ups and downs, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
Eagles Director of Rugby Mark Aston gave James the captaincy back in 2017 and has praised the forward, saying: “Another week and another player retiring, it doesn’t get any easier!
“It’s hugely sad to be seeing Matty hang up his boots, he’ll say it himself but he’s found it tough this year but credit to him he’s continued train hard and push through the pain barrier when we’ve needed him.’
"He’s a leader, which is clear as he’s been our Club Captain for the past five years. A champion of a man and can’t deny what a big loss will be to us. He does a lot off the pitch, which not many get to see, he’s someone I believe our younger players look up to.
“I feel like I’m repeating a lot of what I said when Rob Worrincy announced he was hanging up his boots last week but they are both fine examples of rugby league players.
“We’ll miss them greatly but they’ve gone about their business the right way and are ending their careers and their time at Sheffield Eagles in a positive manner and we wish them all the best going forward.”
By Dan Fowler, photo by Alex Coleman