When people watch Wheelchair Rugby League for the first time, Australian and NSW rep player Brad Grove knows what their reaction will be.
“The first comment we get most often is ‘Why haven’t I seen this before?’,” Grove said.
“Their reaction shows that there’s an appetite for our game out there.”
Those not familiar with the game can watch the live stream on NSWRL TV of the State of Origin between NSW and Queensland from the Whitlam Centre in Liverpool at 2.15pm tomorrow (29 January).
The game has been postponed the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with NSW winning the 2019 interstate clash 52-4.
Unfortunately, due to the current Omicron surge, Saturday’s match is not open to spectators.
But Grove, a veteran of the NSW Blues side as well as a Wheelaroo (an Australian player at the 2013 and 2017 Wheelchair World Cups), encouraged fans to tune into NSWRL TV to have their eyes opened.
“Straight off the bat it’s different,” he said.
“Everyone is used to seeing the men’s and women’s games but when people see our game, they don’t expect us to be able to do the things we can do in a wheelchair.
“After missing the last two years we’re obviously pretty disappointed (there’s no fans) but at least it’s getting streamed. For us the main thing is we get to play.
“All the boys are ready. We’ve got a few new players and lot of experienced guys there so we’re gelling really well – we’re ready to go.”
NSW co-captain Craig Cannane said in 2019 the game not only attracted a large crowd to Sydney Olympic Park but was live streamed as well.
“We had a big audience on live stream, which proves people want to watch us,” he said.
Cannane said the Queensland team had a number of Australian players in their ranks and were coached by England international, Jack Brown.
“Jack is one of the best players in the world and will be back playing for England at this year’s World Cup,” he said.
“He won the Golden Boot award in 2019 so he has experience and familiarity with the game.”
Cannane is also a dual World Cup representative. National selectors will use Saturday’s Origin game as they formulate the Wheelaroos squad for the 2022 World Cup - the tournament is being played simultaneously with the men’s and women’s tournaments for the first time.
Grove is expecting a more highly competitive game than in 2019.
“The Queenslanders haven’t had the lockdowns we’ve had in Sydney so they’ve had more time to prepare as a group,” he said.
Commentary for the Origin game will be led by Jason Costigan, who has called more than 200 NRL games, mostly on Fox League in Australia and New Zealand's Sky Television, including the 2002 NRL Grand Final.
Costigan will be joined in commentary by David Nugent, who will be team manager for the Wheelaroos at the World Cup and has an extensive background in Wheelchair Rugby League.
There are five players on court at a time, with the rules a close mirror of the 13-a-side running game but obviously without tackles, scrums, or traditional play-the-balls.
Players must pass backwards, possession changes after six tackles, the ball must be grounded on the try line or in-goal, and the points-scoring system is the same.
Players are tackled similar to OzTag – by defenders removing an attacking players’ velcro tag worn on the shoulders. The “field” is half the size of the running game – 50m x 25m – or across three indoor basketball courts.