Wheelchair Rugby League - a jewel in the sport's crown
An editorial piece isn’t something I was expecting to do when I first ventured to Sheffield Hallam’s Pearson Building on Monday night, to cover the Eagles’ Wheelchair team in training.
However, it wasn’t too long before questions were asked.
“You’re not going to be standing there with a phone for an hour and half are you?”
“Fancy getting in and having a go?”
Now I am not an athlete in any sense of the word, nor very confident.
But this sport is inclusive to all and that is definitely the case with Wheelchair rugby league.
Whether you’re non-disabled, partially disabled, a full-time wheelchair user, have learning difficulties - you name it, rugby league will have a version of its game for you.
The popularity of Wheelchair rugby league is on the rise, with this year’s Super League Grand Final being broadcast on Sky Sports.
The Wheelchair World Cup starts on Thursday November 3rd and it’s fair to say we could be looking at a popularity boom, given the fast-flowing nature and heavy hits that come with the sport.
As you can tell, I’ve not spoken about my own experience too much just yet. First of all, setting up.. Getting in the chair and almost rolling backwards gave me a bit of a fright. “It does have wheels on, you know?” Cheers for that, Emma!
All equipment is provided by the Eagles Foundation, who have had funding from the Rugby League World Cup’s CreatedBy initiative and the National Lottery amongst others.
The equipment includes tags, this is how you tackle in Wheelchair rugby league. Grab a tag from an opponent’s shoulder, they then have to put another tag on before ‘playing the ball’ - tapping the ball on the floor before passing.
This was all explained to myself, who had seen highlights of the sport previously but was still trying to get to grips with moving about. Then, a ball came flying to me. Panic!
I did catch it, but I wanted to leave out that my next touch was a pass that nearly landed at the OLP.. A bit of friendly ribbing from my teammates probably helped settle any nerves from there on!
Players’ Player of the Year Jack Johnson, albeit a Featherstone fan but the squad clearly forgave him, showed me the ropes in the early going. Easy to tell why he’s the Players’ Player!
The camaraderie of the Eagles squad is something that also caught my eye. The team, in their debut year, didn’t win a game but have had away trips to Scotland (Dundee) and Wales (a tournament and away game vs North Wales). Those experiences certainly live long in the memory for the squad, whether win, lose or draw.
While the England team will be gunning for the World Cup against the best in the business, for this Eagles team - next year is all about progression, improvement and continuing to play with a smile on your face.
And my word, even through the aching of my upper body, there was plenty of smiling and laughing in this 90-minute session.
Wheelchair Rugby League sessions take place at Pearson Building, Sheffield Hallam University, S10 2BP every Monday from 6:30pm.
Follow @Eagles_Found on Twitter and like the Foundation’s page on Facebook, for regular updates!
By Dan Fowler, photo by Emma Pearson