MORE THAN £7,000 has been raised in honour of Batley Bulldogs player Archie Bruce, who was found dead just hours after making his first team debut.
The 20-year-old was discovered in his hotel room early on Sunday morning.
The previous evening he had come off the bench in the Bulldogs’ 46-0 Championship defeat to Toulouse.
Tributes to the young hooker have poured in from across the sporting world, and the RFL Benevolent Fund has set up a Just Giving page which has already raised £7,100 of its £7,500 target.
Archie had been given a chance by the Bulldogs after impressing with amateur side Dewsbury Moor, where he had also played his junior rugby.
A post-mortem examination on Monday showed he died as a result of asphyxiation, and further tests are still being carried out.
Batley director John Miller described Archie as “an infectious young fellow” who was “professional, smart, funny, a bit cheeky as you’d expect from a player in his position”.
“He’s been with us most of the year at training, on and off, and been at most of the games,” Miller said. “He’d taken to the squad and they’d taken to him. It’s just terrible.”
Miller said Archie was “giddy” at the prospect of making his debut, adding: “He could barely contain himself.
“He came on about 10 to 15 minutes into the second half – he’d kept running to the loo every five minutes, he was so excited about getting on – but focused on the game as well.
“When he got on, against a top-quality Toulouse side, he really looked the part. It just showed the promise we knew he had. What can you say? Everybody’s a bit shell-shocked really.”
Having delayed their scheduled Sunday morning flight home most of the squad arrived back on Sunday evening, though chairman Kevin Nicholas and coach Matt Diskin remained behind to support Archie’s parents when they flew out on Monday.
In a social media post this week the Bulldogs said: “We are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of messages offering support and condolences received since the weekend, and are eternally thankful to all.
“We owe special thanks to all who have helped in the past few days and in particular to Toulouse Olympique for the incredible support they gave over in France.”
Archie, who attended Spen Valley High School, first joined Dewsbury Moor at the age of five and made his debut for the open age team at just 16.
This season he had picked up the man of the match award in 11 out of the 15 games he played for Moor.
A statement from the club described him as a key figure who “overcame everything in front of him”.
He started training with the Bulldogs at the start of this season, with a view to featuring in the 2020 campaign.
He made an appearance in the Boxing Day friendly against Dewsbury Rams but was handed his full debut by head coach Matt Diskin in France on Saturday “due to his energy and enthusiasm”.
A Dewsbury Moor ARLFC statement read: “All at Dewsbury Moor are totally devastated, there will always be a hole, a hole that will never be filled.
“The world of rugby league has lost a future star, a star that could have gone a long way, we have lost a teammate, a ray of light.
“Archie should be a role model to others, to follow your dream and never give in, he showed the ‘system’ isn’t the only way and the good always rise to the top.
“Archie’s family have a tough time ahead and we at the club ask everybody respects their space during this horrendous time.
“He will always be loved and never forgotten, the club will ensure his memory lives on.”
Bulldogs chairman Kevin Nicholas said: “Batley Bulldogs, the RFL and the RFL Benevolent Fund will be supporting the family while enquiries by the French authorities continue. The Bruce family have requested privacy during this most difficult of times.”
The fundraising page aims to ëleave a lasting legacy in Archie’s name and benefit charities and causes he and his family support’.
Donations can be made at justgiving.com/fundraising/archie-bruce-1.