FORMER Saints skipper Bobbie Goulding is among a group of former players  planning to sue the Rugby Football League for negligence over what they say was a failure to protect them from the risks of concussion during their careers.

Bobbie Goulding, Paul Highton and Jason Roach are part of a test group of 10 ex-professionals involved in the action against the governing body.

Those three men have been diagnosed with early-onset dementia and probable CTE.

CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy – is a progressive brain condition which is thought to be caused by repeated blows to the head.

The players allege in a letter being sent to the RFL that, given the significant risk of serious or permanent brain damage caused by concussions, the governing body “owed them, as individual professional players, a duty to take reasonable care for their safety by establishing and implementing rules in respect of the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of actual or suspected concussive and sub-concussive injuries”.

The group is represented by Richard Boardman of Rylands Law, the firm which has also launched an action on behalf of ex-rugby union players against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union.

Boardman is representing a wider group of more than 50 players, ranging in age from their 20s to their 50s, many of whom are showing symptoms associated with neurological complications.

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Goulding, 49, played for 17 years as a professional, representing Great Britain, Wigan, Widnes, Leeds and St Helens.

He was the skipper when Saints won the inaugural Super League title in 1996 - completing the double following his devastating performance at Wembley.

He was diagnosed earlier this month, having battled earlier in his life with alcohol addiction.

“For something like this to come out of the blue and hit me like a bus is hard to take,” he told the Daily Mail.

“I didn’t think about dementia at all, I just thought it was the way life was. (When I played) I was 13 stone, 5ft 6in, playing against blokes who were 6ft 2in and 19 stone, and didn’t even bother about it,” Goulding says. “But it takes its toll in the end. Especially if they’re angry!”

“I played within days of serious knockouts on at least three occasions,” he says. “I remember playing on a Sunday for Leigh at Huddersfield towards the end of my career, [in 2002.] I was in Huddersfield Royal Infirmary on the Sunday night after being seriously knocked out, and played the following Saturday against Batley.

"I didn’t have one doctor check on me during that week. ‘Bob, are you ready to play?’ he said. ‘Yeah I’ll play.’ If you watched the video, you’d be shocked.”

Highton, 44, played over 200 Super League games. Like Goulding, he was diagnosed earlier this month.

So too was Roach, 50, a former Scotland international who played for various top clubs in England in a career spanning more than a decade.

He said: "I started forgetting things about 10 or 12 years ago before I was 40, even major events. One time I got into trouble with the police. I was arrested seven days after an incident in my car, but when the police knocked on my door, I had no recollection of it happening.

"They told me that I’d gone into the back of a car, threatened the other driver, and then driven off. The policeman said to me, ‘you’re either the best liar in the world, or you didn’t do it!’ I pleaded guilty, but to this day I can’t remember a thing.

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“I forget where I’ve parked my car and have to check I’ve locked the doors a hundred times to make sure. Sometimes I’ll be making coffee and realise I’ve put two spoons in the cup.

"Why would I do that? These aren’t major things, but they make me feel anxious about the future. I’ve got a 10-month old daughter and need to look after her.”

“I used to be the life and soul, but because of the forgetfulness I’ve retreated into my shell. I was a nervous wreck getting the train because I don’t do public transport anymore.

"I’ve become quite reclusive. I just go to work, come home, have the odd drink in my garden.”

“Bizarrely I can still remember my first concussion. I was playing for St Helens against Bradford at Christmas. I took the ball up from the kick-off, was cleaned out, then just sat down on my backside! I played on until half-time.

"I wasn’t out cold, but the lads said I was singing Christmas carols on the bench in the second half. I was taken to hospital, where I rang my partner of two years, and she said we’d split up a few weeks earlier. I had no idea. I was in tears in the hospital in my Saints kit.”

Boardman said: “The vast majority of the former players we represent love the game and don’t want to see it harmed in any way. They just want to make it safer so current and future generations don’t end up like them.

“Younger players such as Stevie Ward and Sam Burgess have recently spoken publicly about their own brain damage, so these issues aren’t restricted to older generations.

“This is why we’re asking the RFL to make a number of immediate, relatively low-cost changes to save the sport, such as limiting contact in training and extending the return to play (following a concussion).”

Governing body the RFL follows the 2016 Berlin Consensus Statement on Concussion In Sport, which is considered best practice by many sports bodies.

All professional rugby league matches have at least one doctor in attendance who is qualified to provide immediate on-field treatment, many have two and some Super League games have four.

Two clinical groups, one of which includes representation from the Rugby League Players’ Association (RLPA), make recommendations on medical standards and best practice to the RFL.

Players are given a baseline cognitive function test at the start of each season before they engage in any contact training, and this baseline informs decisions taken as part of the graduated return-to-play (GRTP) protocols to ensure players have fully recovered from any concussion they suffer.

Players suspected of suffering a concussion in a match are taken off the pitch and assessed for 15 minutes, during which time the player can be replaced by a free interchange. The RFL’s Laws Committee regularly discusses and considers steps which seek to reduce contact with the head.