Townsville Blackhawks playmaker Shaun Nona knows he made the right call to hang up the boots at the end of the 2022 Hostplus Cup season.
Even though he knows it's what he body needs, it didn’t make it any easier to watch the Cup finals series and to accept his rugby league career is over.
Nona, who played more than 100 games for four Cup clubs, is like most athletes who can struggle with life after sport.
“It was a bit hard to adjust,” Nona said of his retirement, which came in August after the Blackhawks missed the finals.
“The first two weeks after we finished, that was quite hard on myself. There was finals footy on and I wanted to be doing that.
“Like anything, time heals everything. I’m not going to miss when the boys go back to pre-season, but once they start playing some footy with the trials and the season, it will sink in again and I’ll probably miss it a bit more.”
But one way Nona has started to move towards further acceptance in life after footy is through the Retiring Players Transition program.
Run by the NRL’s wellbeing and education programs manager David Solomona and his wife, Utu, the program focuses on the aftermath of retirement, how to communicate and stay connected to the game, and how players can best use their time without training and games.
Nona said he decided to retire because of the number of major injuries and surgeries his body had endured during his career.
It was something he had not only discussed with his wife, but also with other former players who assured him his body would feel much better once he walked away.
Nona is already feeling this and enjoying the extra time he gets to spend with his young family.
But when the email came through from the Queensland Rugby League’s competitions manager, Dave Maiden, about the transition program, Nona knew it was something he needed.
He ventured to Brisbane with fellow retiring Blackhawks players Kalifa Faifai-Loa and Joe Boyce and their partners, and enjoyed not just the chance to be in the southeast, but to learn more about adjusting to life after retirement.
“One of my teammates, Joey Boyce... he let me know when we had a presso night that he received an email from Maido about the retiring players,” Nona said.
“I didn’t know about it so I opened my email on the spot and saw the message. It’s all we spoke about that night and we all decided we’d go down and see what it’s all about.
“This was a weekend to relax and enjoy each other’s company and hear what David (Solomona) and his wife had to say.
“One thing we did was around the love languages, which I think struck all of us because we didn’t know much about that leading into it and what type of love language we had and our partners had.
“David also mentioned there’s ways to stay connected to the game, that you don’t have to walk away completely, whether it’s through coaching or helping out the junior side of things.
“I know how I felt when I wanted to be playing finals footy so it’s something I am going to look at moving forward.”
Nona, who works for the Clontarf Foundation and is based at Townsville’s Kirwan State High School, said he already enjoyed popping over to the see the kids in the school’s rugby league program, jumping into drills and helping the students.
The program with Solomona has started to make him consider what he could do moving forward to stay engaged in rugby league, particularly around guiding the next generation.
Solomona said that is the exact goal of the program and he hoped to see it expand over the coming years.
“The fact they (Nona, Faifai-Loa and Boyce) lived so far yet decided to show up was a testament to the type of people they are,” Solomona said.
“Their interactions within the discussions spoke volumes into how successful I believe they will handle transitioning away from the game.
“I believe listening and learning from other players and partners will enable them to be more aware and prepared to handle certain situations because they aren’t caught off guard.”
Nona said it was a program he would encourage all future retiring players to take part in.
“Anyone who has spent a lot of time playing footy at this level, it’s something they should consider doing,” Nona said.
“I didn’t really know what to expect going down there and doing the program but I felt a lot more comfortable after the conversations we had.
“It painted a better picture of what to expect for life after footy.”