Wheelchair rugby going from strength to strength

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Training six days a week, competing more often than not and travelling the world to play the sport you love.

Elite wheelchair rugby is well worth the gruelling schedule, if you ask Steelers Andrew Harrison and Jayden Warn.

Harrison is a dual Paralympic gold medallist and his Victorian teammate Warn was also in last year’s Rio champion side, now ranked no. 1 in the world.

While Harrison had never had much interest in playing contact sports before picking up wheelchair rugby, Warn was riding motorbikes at two-and-a-half and loved the idea of the rough and tumble sport.

“One of the ex-Australian players came in and explained what it was and said, 'Do you want to jump in a chair and see what it's like?'"

“I jumped in the chair with some of the guys at rehab and pretty much the same day I loved it.

Jayden Warn is one of the Australian Steelers. Photo: Serena Ovens“It’s fast, it's rough, I grew up playing any sport on wheels that I could hurt myself and this is the next best thing.

“Pretty much from day dot I've loved it and the support you get from everyone (is great)."

Both have been amazed by the growth of the sport, that just five years ago was a niche form of recreation, mainly known because of the documentary ‘Murderball’.

From casual pick-up games to the relentless training regime they now undergo, Harrison has seen rapid change in the sport in recent times.

“When I first played, we used to just rock up at a court, play rugby and that was about it,” he said.

“Now, it's training six days a week, competing at least once or twice a week and we're out of the country 3-4 times a month.”

Since their thrilling Rio win, Warn feels the sporty is really beginning to capture the nation’s attention.

“It's been a long time coming i think but ever since the guys won in London, just before I started, ever since then the sport's grown a lot in Australia, people have started to take more notice of it and look at the sport,” he said.

Sydney will host the Wheelchair Rugby World Championships in 2018. Photo: Serena Ovens“I've never come across anyone that's watched the sport and not enjoyed it.

“We work just as hard as every other athlete out in the world and I don't see why we can't get that recognition that everyone else does and that's what's happening. It's really good.”

Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria are competing with Canada, Japan and New Zealand in the Fierce Four nationals, a test event for next year’s World Championships, a tournament Harrison can’t wait to be involved with.

“Australia's really passionate about their sport and to have world champs here next year and to be able to showcase the sport of wheelchair rugby but also to show Australia what the Australian team's capable of - we're really looking forward to,” Harrison said.

The Australian team will head to New Zealand later this month to compete in the Oceania Championships, against Japan, New Zealand and Korea, a competition  they need to win to secure their 2018 World Championships qualification.

The IWRF Wheelchair Rugby national Championship runs until August 5 at Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre.