A State of Origin of a different kind is seeing people on four wheels compete on a level playing field against able-bodied people with inspiring results.
- Wheelchair Rugby League allows people of all abilities and genders to compete against one another
- NSW beat Queensland in this year’s Wheelchair State of Origin contest
- Players say the sport helps people of different abilities connect and have important conversations
The NRL Wheelchair State of Origin gives players the ability to play side-by-side with their siblings, family or friends who use chairs for health and physical reasons.
For the past five years the competition has seen Queensland and New South Wales play on a 60-metre indoor court marked up just like a football field.
“You have to play the game to really feel the exhilaration it brings,” said Queensland coach Jay Jay Atuahiva.
“It is crash, bang and tackle at 100 miles an hour.
“It’s rough and tumble and it’s why people with disabilities love to get involved.”
The Queensland team is made up of players across the state including Townsville, Rockhampton, Toowoomba, Ipswich and Brisbane.
“We haven’t had a win yet, but it is hard for us to come together as a team as we’re so spread out and are unable to see each other for long periods of time before the game,” Atuahiva said.
Before he became a coach, Atuahiva played Rugby Union for the Maori All Blacks before being approached to play in the Wheelchair Rugby League while competing at the Pan Pacific Games.
All players compete in wheelchairs, and women are also welcome to take part.
“That’s the exciting thing about the sport, it really is an all-inclusive sport as those without a disability can also play, male or female,” Atuahiva said.
“It really does give able-bodied people an awareness of people with a disability and what life is like in a chair.
“It allows people who have a disability the enjoyment of playing with able-bodied people on a level playing field.”
Head to head with the Blues
Queensland co-captain Shaun Harre said the side’s recent 54-4 loss to News South Wales in Sydney did not reflect the game.
“We were under pressure, but I felt we competed well, and from a spectator point of view it was very entertaining,” Harre told ABC Radio Brisbane’s Craig Zonca and Loretta Ryan.
“We just didn’t quite get the job done.”
The sport is played on a 60-metre court that is marked as a football field. (Supplied: Shaun Harre)
Harre said the team fought hard with the Queensland spirit and passion.
“It’s hard to get combinations together when you’re only together for a short time before the game,” Atuahiva said.
Important conversations post-game
This year was Harre’s fourth year playing for the Queensland team.
He became involved in the sport after his brother-in-law was in a motorbike accident.
“He always wanted to play sport with me and it’s been great to be able to play with him and do it together,” Harre said.
“After the games we get to talk to spectators and other players who have similar stories.
“That’s what makes it such a great game, as it’s a mix of people with a disability and able-bodied people who can talk about their experiences.”
The team are looking to next year for a win.
“Here’s to 2020,” Harre said.
“We’ll keep going forward, play hard and get more people into the game.”