NORTH Wales Crusaders are delighted to welcome Jack Houghton back to the club and the second rower has shared an important message about mental health following his return to rugby league, writes Ryan Gould.

After coming through the academy system at Widnes Viking and linking up with Crusaders ahead of the 2017 campaign, Houghton made 61 appearances for the club and crossed for 15 tries in the process.

Even though he was a popular player among the fans, squad and coaching staff, Houghton was facing some personal battles and had to take time away from the sport.

He said: “I’d struggled mentally for a while and, after I had a bad night, I made a few attempts on my own life.

“Anthony Murray and Si Reynolds called to my house on the way to our game in Wrexham that I was supposed to be playing in, put their arms round me and got me the helped I needed through State of Mind.

“I got set up with a therapist and a lot of my issues have been fixed since I took a step away from playing rugby.

“From a young age, you’re often told about showing no pain in sport, but I was a grown man crying and it’s important we break that stigma around mental health.

“I knew I wasn’t happy for years and I hadn’t been eating right or sleeping much. I had rapid hair loss at a young age and was dealing with some other issues.

“I was playing for my family and I thought that, if I didn’t have rugby, I didn’t have anything else.

“I’d stay in bed all day with the curtains closed and, even when I’d had a good game, I’d be doubting myself.”

After getting the supported he needed, Houghton returned to training with Crusaders a couple of weeks back and has been rewarded with a contract for the remainder of the 2021 campaign.

He added: “I’m absolutely buzzing as I’m really enjoying it.

“I wanted to go back to Muzza as he was there for me. Even when I’d left the club and wasn’t in the squad, he messaged me every day and made welfare calls to make sure I was doing fine. He’s always treated me like one of his own.

“When I was thinking about getting back involved, I was doubting myself, but I didn’t want to get to a point where I wasn’t at the right age to play anymore. If you’d asked me last year, I never thought I’d be able to play rugby again.

“I was encouraged to come down and train and told I’d always be made welcome.

“This is a good chance for me – it isn’t a sob story – and I know I need to prove myself to get in the team.

“While I’d like to be playing, I also want to show others like me that you’re not alone and put my arms round them if they need it.

“I see other lads who are quiet and not your typical rugby players like me and it’s important people speak out if they’re struggling with their mental health.”

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