Conceding 50 points in the last Wheelchair State of Origin is underpinning the NSW Blues preparations for the next tussle with Queensland due to be held in Townsville on 23 July.
The NSW team was named last week with six Australian players and two debutants in coach Edie George’s 10-man side.
The memories of the postponed 2021 Origin match – a 50-30 win by Queensland in Sydney last January – are still strong.
“They’re all pretty hungry for this game – all highly motivated after the last loss, it hit them hard,” George said.
But successive video analysis and team debate has identified the areas that needed attention.
“We’ve been focusing on our defensive structures and our defensive mindset,” George said.
“Attack comes naturally to a lot of our players, so I’m not worried about points. We’re all more concerned with our defence and being switched on.
“Failing in that area was one of our problems in the last game.”
Central to success this time around will be the six Wheelaroos players named in the Australian team for the Wheelchair World Cup in the UK later this year, which runs in tandem with the Kangaroos and Jillaroos competitions.
The Wheelaroos, who also form the nucleus of the NSW Wheelchair Rugby League team, include Brad Grove, Cory Cannane, Craig Cannane, Diab Karim, Liam Luff and Rick Engles. William Derederenalagi is also making a comeback after representing NSW in 2020.
“Will has played before but he’s coming back to prove himself and try to get a spot in the Wheelaroos squad,” George said.
“That won’t be until next year now, but he wants to make sure he can put himself back into the minds of selectors.”
The two debutants are Chris O’Brien and Toby Popple.
The NSW side has completed one training camp, has another at Sydney’s Menai Sports Centre this weekend and then a third before travelling to Townsville.
O’Brien is from Canberra, while Popple and reserve Zac Carl are from Wagga Wagga.
“It’s not always easy to get everyone’s timetables to gel,” George said.
“But preparations have been going well.
“It’s the first time an Origin wheelchair Rugby League game has been played in Townsville.
“They have a good competition up in North Queensland, so we want to spread the word further about our game.
“We played the 2021 Origin in Sydney so it’s only fair Queensland gets to have the 2022 match.
And as for being deep in the heart of Maroons supporters’ territory?
“It just adds to our list of small challenges in winning back the Shield,” George said.
Wheelchair Rugby League is a fast, entertaining, and highly physical branch of the game.
There are five players per side on court at a time, with each team allowed two AB (able-bodied) players making Wheelchair Rugby League one of the most inclusive sports around.
It’s two 40-minute halves, and the same points scoring as the running game. The ‘field of play’ is 50-metres in length and 25-metres wide, across three indoor basketball courts.
Rules are similar – players must pass backwards, possession changes after six tackles. A ‘tackle’ is made by ripping off the Velcro shoulder tag of an opposition player, similar to Monarch Blues Tag.
Kicks downfield, conversions, penalties and field goals are hand-punted. A play-the-ball is made by tapping the football on the ground before passing.
NSW Wheelchair Rugby League squad
Jason Attard (Wests Tigers)
Cory Cannane (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Craig Cannane (c) (St George Illawarra Dragons)
William Derederenalagi (Parramatta Eels)
Rick Engles (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Brad Grove (c) (Wests Tigers)
Diab Karim (Parramatta Eels)
Liam Luff (Parramatta Eels)
Chris O’Brien (Canberra Raiders)
Toby Popple (Canberra Raiders)
Zac Carl (Canberra Raiders)
Edge Iole (St George Illawarra Dragons)