While standing on the touchline at Cwmbran Stadium watching wheelchair rugby league for the first time, I chatted with two sports officials. The word that came up most often was “inclusivity”.
I’ll admit I didn’t know it was a sport for everyone. Wheelchair rugby league allows people with disabilities to compete alongside and against people without disabilities. You just need to be able to use a wheelchair. Two teams were about to play, the Torfaen Tigers and the Cardiff Blue Dragons in round three of the Wales Rugby League wheelchair invitational league. I was told that in this match the youngest player was 12 and across the two squads, there was a husband and wife, son and dad, and mum and daughter getting ready to play against each other, some with a disability and some without.
It’s a simple game to follow, especially if you’ve watched rugby league. Players are allowed six tackles before losing the ball. A tackle is made by a player grabbing a velcro strip of another player. Each player ‘wears’ a bundle of strips so the game can quickly restart. There are rugby posts and players use their hand to hit the ball through the posts and score a conversion.
Mathew Morris-Parker, from Torfaen Tigers Wheelchair Rugby, told Cwmbran Life: “We are all part of the same club (Torfaen Tigers rugby league). We wear the same shirts, we are just one big club. It’s like proper rugby, it’s just played in a wheelchair. So you’ve still got to pass backwards, we’ve still got tries and conversions. The thing that’s most important is it’s an inclusive sport, it’s not a disability sport. So anyone can play regardless of your age, gender, ability, or disability, anyone is welcome. As long as you can push yourself in a wheelchair you’re more than welcome to join in. We train in Pontypool Active Living Centre every Friday (at 7pm). We welcome everyone and anyone to come and have a look, even just as a spectator. That’s how a lot of our players have got involved. It’s how I got involved. I got involved through my own business, sponsoring a local team who offered me a go. It’s fab.”
Steve Jones, development officer for wheelchair rugby league in Wales, said: “We are looking at potentially another two teams in Wales by the end of 2024. It’s the most inclusive sport on the planet. You don’t have to have a disability to play. We cater to everyone. Players get to play a sport with no boundaries. How many other sports in the world can you say that you’ve got a disability but you can play it along with someone who hasn’t? The beauty with wheelchair rugby league is we haven’t changed the rules. Anyone who knows the sport of rugby league will recognise what we do within minutes because it’s exactly the same. The only thing we don’t do is scrums.”
Join the Torfaen Tigers Wheelchair Rugby Team
They train every Friday from 7pm to 9pm in Pontypool Active Living Centre
Watch the Torfaen Tigers Wheelchair Rugby Team
This clip is from the first half of their match against Cardiff Blue Dragons. The Tigers won 62-34.