If someone had told an 18-year-old Peter Arbuckle that he would one day represent Queensland and Australia in rugby league, he would have laughed in disbelief.
The North Queensland product gave the game away in 1989 when he joined the Australian Defence Force as an infantry soldier, serving for eight years, including time overseas in Cambodia.
Once he was discharged, returning to the game he played growing up was pretty far from his mind.
Then, in 2015, Arbuckle lost his left leg.
“I lost my leg in 2015… it was a motorbike accident in Townsville,” Arbuckle said.
“I was moving house. The motorbike was the last thing to be moved from the old house to the new house and the rest is history.”
This was no doubt a difficult time for Arbuckle, but through the pain and the recovery came a “lucky” meeting.
Arbuckle’s daughter’s friend introduced the now 50-year-old to her father, Darren McKenna.
In very similar circumstances, McKenna had lost his left leg in a motor accident in 2006. He understood the emotions that Arbuckle was going through, having experienced a lot of frustration himself at the time of his accident.
So, he went to visit Arbuckle in hospital.
“He came and saw me and he spoke about wheelchair sports and having something to focus on,” Arbuckle said.
“Once I started walking and was on my feet again, I went to look at wheelchair basketball. If it had not been for Darren, I don’t know if I ever would have known about.
“This was in early to mid-2016 that I started playing basketball and then I saw they had a come and try session for wheelchair rugby league in Townsville for the Queensland team.
“Having played rugby league growing up, that’s what drew me to the come and try. Had I not had that background, I don’t know if it would have interested me.
“I tried out there and wasn’t successful in making that team but I was hooked and I tried and I trained consistently.
“The next year I tried out for Queensland again and made the team. From there I also made the Australian team.”
Arbuckle never looked back from that moment on.
While he certainly dabbled in other sports, including a career-high achievement in going to the Invictus Games for basketball and rugby union, league was the game he continued to return to and thrive in.
This Saturday he will once again don a Queensland Construction Sciences Maroons jersey for the Bravery Trust State of Origin and at the end of the year he will go to England for the World Cup with the Skyring Australian Wheelaroos.
Born in Cairns, it is a dream come true for Arbuckle to represent his state and country.
“I found a new lease in life through team sports when I lost my leg,” Arbuckle said.
“I think I’ve done more since 2015 than the 20 years prior to that. I’ve played for Australia in multiple sports, I’ve been all over the world… it’s been fantastic.
“In a sense you want two legs, you want all four limbs, but it hasn’t been all doom and gloom.
“Not in my wildest dreams could I have predicted this. I gave away rugby league once I joined the Army. There wasn’t rugby league in the Army back in the day, it was mostly rugby union and AFL.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought there would be a wheelchair game. It was a little bit exciting coming across it.”
And in a nice twist of fate, Arbuckle will suit up for Queensland alongside the son of the man who set him on this sporting path.
Bayley McKenna now plays wheelchair sports as a nod to his inspirational father, Darren.
“I used to come to wheelchair basketball when he was a young whipper-snapper,” Arbuckle said of Bayley.
“I remember when he was 14 or 15 and he was really good in a chair back then because of his dad. He used to follow his dad around… his dad’s his idol.
“He came along to wheelchair basketball and would get in a chair and play with us. He used to play rugby league and then transferred over to wheelchair league to be with his dad.
“He wanted to be part of that.”
Now Arbuckle and Bayley will look to defend Queensland’s Wheelchair State of Origin title together on Saturday.
The Maroons claimed their first victory in January, in the postponed 2021 Origin clash.
With a home ground advantage, Queensland are hopeful of starting their own winning streak against New South Wales.
From his Queensland debut in 2017 to now, Arbuckle said the development of wheelchair rugby league had been huge – almost like a “completely different sport”.
Queensland in particular has started to take the game more seriously, following years of defeat at the hands of NSW.
Now, he said, they were primed and ready for anything on Saturday.
“What Queensland used to do was find players from wheelchair basketball and throw them together the day before the game,” Arbuckle said.
“We were getting towelled up pretty bad… it was pretty disheartening. But now we have found some players who have dedicated themselves to the sport. We don’t play wheelchair basketball anymore, nothing else, just wheelchair rugby league.
“It’s evolved immensely. Last year’s win was simply amazing. We put so much work into the training camps. There was a lot of travel, a lot of hard work and it was simply amazing.
“To come away with it earlier this year and see the fruits of all that hard work pay off, you almost can’t put it into words.”
The 2022 Bravery Trust State of Origin will be held on Saturday, July 23, at Townsville Stadium from 4.15pm
This match will be live on Qplus.tv.