The rugby league world appears to become more inclusive by the day.
Nowadays we have a prospering Women’s Super League, which reached a new record attendance in the Grand Final at Headingley in October, a PDRL league and a fantastic wheelchair competition which, along with the women’s game, we often get to see live on TV.
This inclusivity reached a new level when Colostomy UK made their very own team to raise awareness for stoma patients and ensure that they too feel welcomed to play the greatest game of all.
Stoma surgery is used to treat a number of conditions from cancer to Crohn’s disease and sees the bowel or bladder diverted through a stoma, a surgically created hole, in the abdomen so that bodily waste exits there into a bag. Over 100,000 people in the UK have a stoma meaning around one in 500 people have one in this country.
This is why Colostomy UK’s rugby league team is important as not only does it raise awareness but it also encourages stoma patients, known as ostomates, to get involved in the game they love. For a treatment that is used in men and women of all ages, even professional athletes, such an opportunity is vitally important.
Yes, you read that right even professional athletes can have stomas, and we had one at the very top of Super League in the shape of Paul Anderson.
The former Bradford and St Helens prop is best known for what he achieved with the Bulls and Saints in the first decade of Super League. Baloo, as he was affectionately known as, helped the Bulls to Grand Final glory in 2001 and 2003 becoming a part of an elite group as the Bulls won the treble in 2003 after a Challenge Cup Final triumph over rivals Leeds earlier that season.
Part of arguably the greatest ever pack in Super League history at the Bulls, he established himself as a Great Britain international before joining St Helens in 2005 being an important leader in the middle of the field for a rebuilding side helping them return to top spot for the first time since 2002 that season.
A year later and he became, along with Leon Pryce, the first player to win the treble with two different clubs as the Saints won every trophy available in 2006 meaning Anderson’s last game was the Grand Final win at the expense of Hull FC, but 15 years later he’s set to make an amazing return to the field for Colostomy UK.
Since his retirement, Anderson has proven to be an excellent coach moulding the greatest Huddersfield side of the Super League era and helping them to top spot in 2013 before working wonders with the stars of tomorrow with the England Knights. He also holds the position of Under 19s coach at Warrington.
But his duties as a coach haven’t stopped him from putting on his boots once again today for Colostomy UK as he raises awareness around stomas having had the operation well before he was a Super League Champion.
He revealed to the Colostomy UK website that in the 1993-94 season, whilst at Halifax, he was developing an abscess in his bowels which was refusing to heal and his symptoms got progressively worse for 18 months: “I’d had a fistula in my bowel for a good 12 months and I’d had enough. Every time I went in to hospital I was told ‘See you in a couple of weeks’ but there was no improvement. I decided to change specialists and get a second opinion from a professor in Leeds. He said I had two options: carry on as I was or have colostomy surgery. He made the decision for me really. I’m pretty black and white, so that suited my personality. It was a no brainer: I had the surgery. It is what it is, a means to end. It was the quickest route from A to B. If anyone asks me now I’d say ‘don’t hesitate – do it’.”
He revealed how the surgery meant he had no money coming in as he was forced to have two years out of rugby: “Lisa and I had just bought our first house and we were about to get married, so it was very stressful. I actually got married with a stoma! Looking at the photos, you wouldn’t think anything was wrong, though. When I look back now I think of our mind-set and how it made us stronger. Lisa was massive. She was so supportive, both emotionally and financially.”
Halifax gave him the time to get fit again but shortly after his return, whilst facing a different kind of surgery following injury on the field, he made the move to Bradford where a few years later he’d become a Super League Champion.
Today, over two decades since he had the surgery, Anderson is still fighting fit and ready to do his part to raise awareness as he puts Colostomy UK’s lovely purple kit on as they take on Bramley Buffaloes this afternoon at Stanningley.
According to what he wrote on Twitter, the Great Britain international is excited to do so even if it has been over 15 years since his last game at Old Trafford: “Today’s the day, After 15 years 1 month & 6 days I’m digging the boots out and playing again, I’m exited to be pulling the purple shirt on for Team Colostomy UK.”
Todays the day, After 15 years 1 month & 6 days I’m digging the boots out and playing again 😳, I’m exited to be pulling the purple shirt on for @TeamColostomyUK #UpThePurps #StomaAware #TaclingTheStomaStigma https://t.co/Olt6haf1O9
— Paul Anderson (@PaulAnderson_17) November 20, 2021