Rugby League Cares has enhanced its support for the sport’s playing community with two key appointments to the charity’s player welfare team.

Former England, Wakefield, Wigan, London and Hull KR forward Francis Stephenson has taken on the role of Transition Manager and Keith Senior, the former Great Britain, Sheffield and Leeds centre, joins the charity as Community and Welfare Manager.

Francis and Keith will work alongside Welfare and Development Manager Steve McCormack, the former Scotland, Widnes, Whitehaven, Salford, Barrow and Swinton coach who has been leading welfare provision since February 2019.

The two had been working with the charity in part-time roles and will lend their expertise and insight in a full-time capacity with immediate effect.

Their appointment comes at a time when RL Cares has been providing unprecedented levels of support to the playing community as the sport continues to tackle the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic.

The ongoing health crisis has meant that RL Cares, an independent charity which has responsibility for delivering player welfare services to the professional game, is helping more players than ever before.

“We are delighted that Francis and Keith have agreed to join us in full-time roles,” said Chris Rostron, the Head of RL Cares.

“In Steve, Keith and Francis we have three individuals who collectively possess over 60 years’ experience of Rugby League at the highest level.

“The insight and empathy they bring to the charity is invaluable.

“Our welfare team are doing an incredible job supporting players who are feeling more vulnerable now than at any time in their lives.

“Since lockdown began we have had more than 600 consultations with players who need help or guidance.

“As a charity we do not have the resources to provide the financial safety net that many players need right now, but we can ensure they have access to the best advice and practical support needed to get through this most challenging of times.”

RL Cares also employs a full-time Career Coach, Julie Measures, who has met dozens of players in the last months to advise them on future career, training and education options.

Covid-19, the furlough scheme, the postponement of Championship and League 1 fixtures and club insolvency issues are having an impact on the health and welfare of players across all three divisions.

RL Cares has maintained strong connections with the non-furloughed club Player Welfare Managers, working on individual cases and sharing best practice to ensure players receive the best support possible.

The support offered has included providing access to the expert services offered by Sporting Chance Clinics, counselling, crisis intervention, professional careers advice, wealth management guidance, legal assistance and spiritual support.

Steve McCormack said: “We are very proud of the way the Rugby League family has stuck together during these very testing times.

“RL Cares has been working hard to ensure all our stakeholders are supported when they need it. We have been in constant contact with the playing community and feel privileged to have played our part in helping many of the players who are now back in action with their Super League clubs.

“We have listened to what the players feel ‘player welfare’ means to them and the arrival of Francis and Keith will allow us to deliver one of the best programmes in world sport.”

As well as the issues raised by the coronavirus pandemic, RL Cares is continuing to fulfil its other roles, including supporting the families of Rugby League players who have endured tragedy in the last few weeks.

Like many charities, RL Cares has suffered a serious funding shortfall as a result of the global health crisis: its biggest fundraiser of the year, the UK Red Empire State 500 which was scheduled to take place in May, would have raised upwards of £100,000 but has had to be postponed.