Warrington Wolves play Leeds Rhinos in first ever physical disability rugby league match in the UK
- Hundreds of fans turn out to show support
- Rules are adapted to create a free-flowing game
- Comedians Adam Hills and Alex Brooker take part in match
Warrington Wolves hosted Leeds Rhinos for the first ever physical disability rugby league game on UK soil.
More than 1,500 fans turned out at Victoria Park to see the historic contest which saw Leeds win a very competitive match 22-10.
The sport has been pioneered in the UK by Australian comedian Adam Hills, who hosts Channel 4’s The Last Leg.
Hills played the full match for Warrington, while his Last Leg co-star Alex Brooker turned out for Leeds.
Craig Thomason, disability development manager for the Wolves Foundation, has huge aspirations for the sport. He said: “This is big and I think the support from the community is absolutely massive for a disability rugby league game.
“With just three or four months work, we’ve gone from trials to this. So what can we do in 12 months? Hopefully we can expand the domestic league and we're looking at taking a touring team down to Australia.”
The Warrington and Leeds sides represent the first two physical disability teams in the UK but Craig Shephard, of Wakefield Trinity, was on hand to view the game. They plan to launch their own disability team in the near future.
Said Craig: “We’ve been working hard in the background to put that together; both of these sides are just a few weeks ahead of where we are - so fast forward a month and we will have a team ready to play and looking forward to some fixtures.”
“Ultimately we want to give opportunities to everybody and that’s what starting a physical disability rugby league is all about.”
Warrington's Dr Phil Cooper, who created The State Of Mind programme, which takes steps to assure the mental wellbeing of rugby league, was also at the fixture.
He saw the importance of the fixture for the players’ psychological health and said: “It’s a massive crossover really, the psychological state of mind of rugby league and getting out there and feeling confident enough to get out on the pitch, because you get to enjoy the same craic and get to play rugby league.”
Adam Hills addressing the crowd after the first ever PDRL match in the UK pic.twitter.com/H6CnA2Y8XK— Tom Brady (@tbrady94_) February 6, 2018
Physical disability rugby league has modified rules to suit all those involved.
Two players on each team are represented by either red bibs or red shorts. These players can only be tagged to be tackled, or tag others to make a tackle.
All other squad members play full contact rugby league, including two able-bodied players that each team is allowed to field. But they cannot score, kick, or run more than 10 metres at a time.
Halves are timed at 25 minute each, with unlimited substitutes, no scrums or drop goals and errors, such as knock-ons, result in a play-of-the-ball for the team in possession, rather than a turnover.
These adapted guidelines lead to a very hard-hitting contest which flow excellently.
Leeds struck first as their captain, Chris Hall, latched onto an interception before sprinting beyond the defence for a long-range try.
Hall was again involved for Leeds’ second score as he weighted a kick to perfection, allowing Jordan Stott to collect with ease before grounding in the corner to extend the lea.
Warrington struck back though. After some powerful running from the wire forwards, they spread the ball out wide to Adam Hills who launched over to make the score 10-4.
Just before half time, Leeds knocked wind out of Warrington’s sails as ex-soldier Simon Brown, who ran with great determination all game, smashed his way over from a few yards out.
The second half was much tighter, with both sides producing a number of huge tackles to keep their opponents at bay.
Seven-year-old Leon Hoey took to the field and went on a surging run with a little help from captain Jason Elkaleh, causing the crowd to explode into applause and cheers.
Warrington eventually broke the second-half deadlock. An incredible quick hands down the left channel opened up a huge amount of space on the opposite flank, which Toa Kohe Love exploited with a long spinning pass to Craig Jensen. He finished the move to bring Warrington back into touching distance at 16 points to 10.
As the final whistle approached, Warrington made a huge push to equalise but, right on the buzzer, Tom Lockett made a break down the right to score the final try of the contest for Leeds.
After a gruelling 50 minutes for both sides, Leeds lifted the trophy with a 22-10 victory. The inaugural physical disability game set the bar incredibly high for future games as the sport looks to gain traction across the UK. The return fixture is set to be hosted by Leeds in May, as Warrington look to bring the cup back to Victoria Park.