Atkins to retire at the end of the season

Published: 9 September, 2021 - 4:59 pm

York City Knights centre Ryan Atkins has announced that he will retire from rugby league at the end of this season.

Atkins, sponsored by Marcia Inn Bishopthorpe, joined the Knights ahead of the 2021 season after spending his whole career with Betfred Super League clubs and still stands as the sixth-highest try-scorer in the competition’s history.

The centre made his 400th career appearance earlier this season when the Knights hosted Bradford Bulls.

Starting his career with the Bulls, he made his Super League debut on loan at Wakefield Trinity in 2006 before signing permanently for the West Yorkshire club at the end of that season. After four years with Trinity, Atkins made the move to top-flight giants Warrington Wolves, with whom he won two Challenge Cup trophies, scoring at Wembley Stadium in their victory in 2010, as well as two League Leaders’ Shields.

2019 saw Atkins honoured with a testimonial after ten years of service to Warrington and, towards the end of that season, rejoined Wakefield Trinity. He spent the 2020 campaign back at the Mobile Rocket Stadium before signing this season for the Knights.

Throughout 2021, Atkins has made eighteen competitive appearances for the Knights, scoring eight tries, the last of which came in defeat to Bradford Bulls – the team whose academy he began his professional journey began with.

Discussing his retirement, 35-year-old Atkins acknowledged that it was a tough decision to come to. “I was contemplating going around again but the time is right,” he explained. “I thought at the end of last year that this could be my swansong, having a really good dig at getting to the play-offs and getting promoted this year with York but that’s just not happened.

“The further we have got through the year, the more batterings my body has taken and I just think the time is right now.

“It’s now time for me to transition away and into the real world. I’ve been doing that gradually now for the last twelve months in a recruitment role and I’m absolutely loving it but, for rugby, my body just won’t do what my mind and my brain wants it to do.

“I always said that, when it came to that point, that I would call it a day and thankfully I’ve got to make that decision off my own back. It’s not an injury or a lack of options, it’s down to my wife, my children and I having come to the agreement that it’s time to spend more time as a family.”

A man with England appearances to his name, Atkins reflects fondly on his time in the sport and the individuals who have played a big part in it. “My debut for Wakefield was really good. When I moved there on loan at first, Monty Betham and David Solomona really took me under their wings.

“I was lucky enough to play outside Dave at Wakefield and then we played together at Warrington as well. He is, without doubt, one of the most influential people in my career and I reckon that, if I didn’t play outside him early on in my career, I wouldn’t have had as many opportunities and progressed as quickly as I did.

“Dave taught me a lot on the field as well as off it in regard to being a family man and getting the balance right in my life. He has a great family and always made sure he had time to spend with them.

“I then got the opportunity to go to Warrington and, in that first year, I got to play at Wembley. I always say that my favourite try from my career is my first one at Wembley against Leeds Rhinos and I absolutely loved that.

“Getting back to Warrington and having the open top bus around the town, that was amazing.

“I was lucky enough to tour Australia and New Zealand with England at the end of that year. That was a phenomenal experience and I loved that whole period of my career at Warrington, especially with Tony Smith.

“He is, without doubt, one of the most important people in my career. The guidance he gave me was brilliant and we’re still great friends now. Even when he left rugby league for a bit, he was always my go-to man with any queries. He was, without doubt, huge for me and my career.

Rounding off his fifteen-year career saw Atkins join the Knights this year, a challenge the centre has enjoyed and embraced. “Some might think that, because it’s second-tier, that it’s not as good as Super League but it’s just as good, if not tougher. The skill and physicality is there because everyone wants to get promoted.

“While teams are recruiting more high-profile players but it’s the young, hungry lads that was to strive that are making it tougher.”

Acknowledging younger players and his teammates, Atkins gave a nod to the teenage trio in the Knights’ first-team squad and how he hopes he has helped their development.

“Myles (Harrison) is a gifted talent. He’s got every skill in the world and he can move as well. He can look a bit gangly but he is quick, an athlete, and he has shown that he can hold his own against men this year.

“Watching him in that Wigan game and against Newcastle, he’s proved that age is just a number and that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.

“I’ve not seen too much of AJ in action but he’s a real athlete and has all the attributes to succeed. You can teach some other assets of the game but athleticism you can’t – you’ve either got it or you haven’t and he definitely has it in abundance.

“And then big Toby. I absolutely love him. He reminds me of myself a bit in that he’s really raw – he catches the ball and runs as hard as he can. That’s how he takes rugby league. There’s no airs and graces about him and you know that, if you cross the line into battle with him, he’s going to give 110%. He’s an old school back-rower, like Bennie Westwood, and a real character.

“I’d like to say that I’ve had a small input in their progression and knowledge of the game. If they have taken just one thing from me then that would be great.”

A former England international with hundreds of top-flight appearances to his name, it’s fair to say Atkins has played with some top-drawer players during his career. Bearing that in mind, his thoughts on teammate Matty Marsh stand-out. “He’s phenomenal. In and out of Super League, he’s one of the best players I’ve played with and he probably doesn’t realise it. When he plays well, the Knights play well. He’s a star, a great player and playing alongside him, you realise just how good he is.”

Finally, Atkins reflects on his time with the club, a closing part of his career that he looks back on fondly. “I’ve loved every minute of it and, even though it hasn’t gone to plan, if I could rewind the clock and sign for a different club, I wouldn’t. I would still sign for York and, even without reaching the Play-Offs, getting Covid-19 and missing Wembley, I’d still go on this journey.

“Playing for and being coached by James Ford has been brilliant, he’s up there with the best coaches I have been around throughout my career. Both he and Jon Flatman have been brilliant to me during my time here and I’m confident that, under the two of them, the Knights have got a big future.

“It’s been great being a part of this club and, for me, it’s been a great way to come to the end of my career.”

Ryan will wrap up his career on Sunday 19th September at the LNER Community Stadium against London Broncos as part of a Knights double-header with our Ladies team also facing Castleford Tigers. We’re delighted to be able to offer our fans a discounted ticket price at £10 for adults, £5 for concessions and FREE for under-16s! These tickets will be valid for both matches and are available now here – it would be great to see as many of you there as possible to send off Ryan in style!

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