WIDNES skipper Jon Clarke has been recruited by the RFL to deliver a series of presentations across Super League Academies in a bid to educate players as they begin their journey as professionals.
Clarke, 34, has won Challenge Cups, represented his country and has become one of the most educated men in Super League, but it’s not been easy for him to reach these heights.
Hard work, being able to overcome adversity and tests of character and learning to live with a mistake is something that has shaped the man and role model he is today.
In the run up to the 1998 and first ever Grand Final, a young Clarke was dropped by Wigan boss John Monie in favour of Mick Cassidy, the hooker who was returning from a six game suspension for an elbow on Adrian Morley.
Monie’s decision to make Clarke 18th man was to have a profound effect on his life. And what happened in the early hours of Sunday, 25 October 1998 shook the 19-year-old and then captain of Great Britain Academy to the core.
He was involved in a serious incident that Clarke used as a positive and made him the professional Vikings youngsters look up to around the club.
“Mick’s ban was up on the day of the Final and John Monie dropped me for Grand Final,” Clarke explained.
“What happened after that is the subject of my presentation and talk which I now deliver on behalf of the RFL to young players across the country.
“I talk about this emotional state I was in on the night of the Final. After the Final there was a lot of drink consumed, drinking on the pitch, in the dressing room, at Central Park and then a pub crawl on the way to the town centre.
“There was an incident where I got thrown out of the club. There was a bit of a scuffle and as I was walking off someone abused me and I hit a guy and broke his neck.
“I ended up getting sent to jail. I talk about how things can accumulate and end up in a bad way. It was a nightmare and something I deeply regret.”
Clarke had a spell in prison but instead of turning that experience into a negative he used it as a driver to get his life back on track. The stint inside gave him focus to try and achieve something in his life, whether that be in or out of Rugby League.
Clarke ended up at London Broncos where he began to piece his life together. He was successful in the capital and then earned a move to Warrington where he was for 11 seasons.
It’s that experience that the Vikings hooker uses as the focus of his informative talks with the stars of the future.
As part of the Professional Players Programme, Clarke presents one segment of seven workshops. Each has a different theme; from sex education to integrity in sport. Clarke’s speech, which has been rated the highest amongst recipients, revolves around responsibility, decision making and knowing how to react to situations that arise everyday for professional Rugby League players.
Clarke, who has a BSc in Sports Science and an MSc in Strength and Conditioning, delivered the keynote speech for the RFL on the latest player performance day, and he says he’s more than happy to educate the stars of tomorrow.
He said: “This is something that is quite unique and it’s about an experience I went through when I was 19-years old. I talk about the dangers of being in certain situations, some like mine were caused through disappointment and frustration, and I tie it under the header of responsibility.
“It’s something I’m really enjoying. I was in Hull last week and I think the players really enjoy the sessions. If I can help them in a small way then I’ve done my job. These are messages I’m sharing around the young players at Widnes too.”
Hull FC Academy player Jack Downs was one of the young men who has benefitted from Clarke’s talk.
“The talk was very good from Jon,” he said.
“At the age we are he has really opened my eyes to realise that wherever you are as a rugby player you are always being watched. The truth is that one hiccup or piece of bad behaviour can cost you. He was honest with us and told us the truth. It was very interesting and good to hear some great advice in the path to becoming a rugby player.”
Ted Chapelhow, of the Vikings under 19’s, added: “All the young players have so much respect for Jon. He’s always giving his advice and tips and are responsibilities as Rugby League players are always reinforced to us. We’re lucky to have him around.”