A MAN who has helped rugby players and their families cope with life-changing circumstances has received one of the sport’s top honours.

Stephen Ball is best known in local circles as Hexham’s deputy mayor, but he has served a number of high profile rugby clubs, including Leeds Rhinos, and Hull FC.

Since 2006, Stephen has been the driving force behind the development of the Rugby League Benevolent Fund, which works with both professional and amateur players.

It provides assistance to players affected by life-changing injuries, and in some cases, families who have lost loved ones playing their chosen sport.

Stephen, who has lived in Hexham for seven years, has been added to the Rugby Football League’s (RFL) elite roll of honour, in recognition of his outstanding service.

The father of two, who has been a member of Hexham Town Council since 2016, was inducted at the game’s Red Hall headquarters, in Leeds, by the RFL’s chief executive Ralph Rimmer.

The RFL citation read: “In his Benevolent Fund role, Steve has proved a natural in being able to offer help of both pastoral and practical nature without being intrusive, and, as a result, being treated as almost a member of the grieving families.

“Fund-raising is a key function of the Benevolent Fund, now totalling hundreds of thousands, and Steve has been heavily involved in that. But he has also become regarded and recognised as a friend, counsellor and shoulder to cry on, as well as being able to offer practical assistance.

“From organising funerals, church services, and representing families at inquests, quite simply, he is totally trusted by all those people that the Benevolent Fund supports.

“The Benevolent Fund is lauded by everyone involved in Rugby League, a tribute in itself to Steve’s work on behalf of the charity.”

The roll of honour was introduced in 2003, and Stephen’s induction extends the membership to only 37 servants of the game. Stephen has served as director of the RFL, director of Leeds Rhinos, chief executive of Hull FC, and as chairman of both Batley and Hunslet.