PJ Marsh of the Warriors taken from the field after fracturing his neck in an NRL clash against the Eels in 2003.
Former New Zealand Warriors star PJ Marsh says he still struggles with recurring pain following a serious neck injury suffered almost 20 years ago.
Marsh played 35 games for the Warriors across three seasons in between stints with the Parramatta Eels before ending his career at the Broncos.
He started in the Warriors’ grand final defeat against the Sydney Roosters in 2002, the same year he made his State of Origin debut for Queensland.
But the following year he suffered a serious neck injury playing against the Eels.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, he has revealed almost 20 years later he’s still dealing with the pain.
“I don’t want this to be about ‘poor me’ but things are hard. I can’t even go for a run, the pounding on the footbath is too hard, I can’t use the gym,” Marsh told the DailyTelegraph.
“I just deal with it and get on with it.”
Marsh opened up about the tackle in the round 14 game at Parramatta Stadium when Eel’s second-rower Darren Treacy joined a tackle attempt, putting pressure around the Warriors hooker’s neck.
“I heard a couple of cracking noises,” Marsh said. “It was probably accidental. I fell into it a bit.
“As I tried to get up to play the ball I had this ridiculous pain through my whole body.
“It scared the absolute shit out of me. You try to wiggle your toes and move your fingers.
“It’s shocking fear. They put me in a brace. Then an ambulance. Then hospital and I couldn’t move for two days.”
X-rays later revealed a neck fracture which saw Marsh miss the rest of the 2003 season and the entire season the following year. He continued playing in 2005 until a back injury led to medical retirement in 2009.
The Broncos paid out the final year of his contract but the medical bills still went up as he continued to undergo tests by making the trip from his home in Yeppoon to see specialists in Brisbane.
“The cost has been enormous,” he said.
“In any other industry where you get hurt as seriously as I did, you get your medical bills paid or at least some help with them.
“I’ve tried cortisone injections and exhausted every medical avenue … It all adds up.
Marsh also spoke about the mental health battles that he has faced after his career. He turned his back on rugby league and didn’t want his sons to play the sport with his wife registering them while he was away one weekend.
“I couldn’t believe the game wiped me the way it did. I’ve never had anyone check on me since the day I retired. Maybe I’m partly to blame because I just sucked it up and didn’t reach out for help.
“A lot of people do the old ‘there’s a lot of people out there going worse than you’. Well, am I meant to feel better because some poor bugger feels even worse than me. At my lowest points I felt pretty damn ordinary. I hated football, I hated everything. I didn’t watch it, I didn’t want my kids to play. I gave all my jerseys away. My warriors grand final jerseys. I didn’t want anything to remind me of the shit I’d been through.
“It was my wife, who has been incredibly supportive, and three beautiful kids that kept me going.”
Marsh’s 15-year-old son Braelan recently signed with the Dolphins and has been in the Broncos and Cowboys development squads.
Marsh revealed his situation because he wants strong penalties and deterrents to continue in the NRL, especially around crusher tackles.
“You’ve got to make the consequences serious to stamp them out.
“They can potentially end a career. They’re worse than a punch/
“The bunker should be able to pick them up and they can act on it.
“Not just on report but use the sin bin. You don’t see a punch anymore because you’re immediately off.”
Marsh said the neck pains aren’t there every day but it’s still a recurring issue.
“It’s for peace of mind because I still get nervous that something in my neck isn’t right.
“The pain in my back and neck still gets me … Not every day but it’s there. I’ve learned to live with it.
“I just don’t want my kids or any other footballer to experience what I’ve been through.”