Danny Sculthorpe has been awarded a five-figure compensation fee for a training injury which led to English rugby league club Bradford cancelling a three-year contract without him ever pulling on their shirt.
Sculthorpe, 35, the younger brother of former St Helens and Great Britain forward Paul Sculthorpe, says he contemplated suicide after seeing his career ended prematurely and being “abandoned”. He is now hoping his case will prompt clubs to take better care of their players.
The claim was lodged against the club’s former holding company, Bradford Bulls Holdings Ltd, which is now dissolved, and was settled by its then insurance company. It has no relation to, or impact on, the current Bulls set-up.
“This case was never about the money for me, it was about Bradford admitting their mistakes,” Sculthorpe said.
“As a club they let me down badly at a time when my career was going very well. They failed to devise a training regime for me to ensure my back condition was managed as it had been elsewhere and then when I was injured, they abandoned me completely.”
Sculthorpe, a prop forward who began his career at Rochdale, made 136 Super League appearances for Wigan, Castleford, Wakefield and Huddersfield before joining the Bulls in 2009 on a two-year contract with an option of a third season.
He had been on specifically-tailored training programs at his previous clubs but he did not undergo a formal medical when joining Bradford, and despite warning both the club doctor and physiotherapist about his back problem, he was instructed to do ‘bent over rowing’, with 60kg barbells at one of his first sessions.
It was then that Sculthorpe suffered a prolapsed disc.
“I was in hospital for eight weeks and nobody came to see me from Bradford,” he said.
“Then they offered me a severance package and even asked that I sign a compromise agreement not to pursue litigation for any perceived negligence. It was basically an offer to be paid off and stay quiet.”
Sculthorpe, who earned up to STG85,000 ($A179,325) a year at his peak, attempted a brief comeback with Widnes but soon found himself struggling financially at home.
“I just felt like I had lost everything and that nobody cared,” he said.
“After a couple of months, I couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage, and because Bradford were denying any responsibility for the injury, I had to try and find STG3,000 for the physiotherapy I needed to give me any chance of getting back playing.
“At that time, all I could think about was how I was unable to support my family, that my career was over and that the only way out was suicide.”
Sculthorpe found help after opening up about his feelings with his parents and through support from the Rugby Football League.
He now works for the State of Mind charity, which established a partnership with the game after it was rocked by the death of Wigan and Great Britain hooker Terry Newton in 2010.
“I am glad I fought for this settlement, as hopefully it sends out a message to other clubs that they must look after players,” he said.
“Too often players are just seen as a piece of meat.”