State of Origin time
Odds are that a Queenslander and New South Welshman could find a way to make anything competitive. Literally anything.
But when NSW and Queensland take each other on in rugby league, it’s always ferocious. And when the two rivals met earlier this month in the first ever official wheelchair rugby league State of Origin, it was everything you would expect.
In the end, NSW ran out 52-4 winners in front of a big crowd at the Quaycentre at Sydney Olympic Park. It was high intensity, high skill and exhausting to watch. But with a great spirit from start to finish.
There’s no questioning the toughness of this sport, or its competitors.
“Wheelchair rugby league gives the ability to play in a team environment that mimics the able body game with full contact,” says Bear Bretherton, who was part of the Queensland team and also competed at the Sydney Invictus Games last year.
But there’s more to the crash and bash than first meets the eye.
An army veteran, Bretherton suffered a nightmare injury to his ankle that would ultimately see his right leg amputated below his knee. Sport has played a crucial part in his recovery. He loves the competition and sticking his hand up and having a go.
“I love how wheelchair sports have progressed and the stigma associated with it, now looking at the chair as a piece of equipment,” says Bretherton. “This is a fully inclusive sport. It gives the ability for friends and family to play sport with disabled loved ones with opportunities to represent Queensland and Australia on the international stages.”
Getting back that drive
Fellow Queenslander Zachary Schumacher got his first taste of wheelchair rugby league before he was medically discharged in May 2016. He gave it a crack at a ‘come try me’ session in Townsville in early 2016 and never looked back.
“Being involved in a team sport again has helped my mental health, it gives you the drive which I have found hard to get post discharge.”
Schumacher was selected for the Queensland team for the first time this year and says there was a buzz in camp before they even stepped on to the main stage. “The team spirit and camaraderie in camp was amazing. You could tell everyone was giving 110% and we all had each other’s backs.”
A sport for everyone
Matt Collins had his own path to getting his hands on a prized Queensland jumper. The chance to represent his state came sooner than he could have hoped.
Collins isn’t able to compete in a lot of the mainstream sports that he loves any more. He’s still with the army, but injuries forced him to look into what adaptive sports he’d be able to play.
When Collins saw wheelchair rugby league advertised in a Mates4Mates newsletter on the Sunshine Coast, he decided to give it a crack. And he found that, with a background in rugby union, it was a good fit.
“I found an activity where I could use my skills and knowledge from playing rugby union for so many years,” says Collins. “Playing wheelchair NRL has given me the motivation to push myself beyond what I am capable of now. I still have a lot to learn and this experience has made me want to push myself harder and further.”
NSW will have bragging rights until next year’s State of Origin rolls around. But don’t let that stop you from getting involved.
Wheelchair rugby league is for all abilities and there are wheelchair competitions right around Australia. Interested in having a go? Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can get involved.