The Australian Steelers have proven their ability to stage miraculous fightbacks, and they will need another one at the Tri-Nations Wheelchair Rugby Championships in Chiba, Japan.
Contested by the world’s three highest ranked teams, the number one ranked Australians have just one win from four matches so far, despite entering the tournament as the reigning Paralympic and World Champions.
It now means the Steelers have lost the chance to move directly into Sunday’s gold medal match as the top qualifier. Instead, they must fight their way through the semi-final, regardless of their two matches tomorrow, to ensure they get a crack at the title.
Both Team USA (ranked world number two) and hosts Japan (world number three) remain in the hunt for top spot and a clean passage through to the decider. Both teams will be especially desperate to avoid the Aussies in the do-or-die semi-final.
And the Aussies will be equally desperate to overcome their sluggish start to the tournament, their first major hitout since their famous double-overtime victory in the gold medal match at last year’s Paralympic Games in Rio.
Led by new captain Ryley Batt in his 250th international appearance, the Steelers opened their campaign yesterday with a 59-58 loss to Team USA and were hammered 60-41 by Japan.
Aiming to get their campaign back on track today, it got only marginally better for the Steelers with a 60-59 victory over the USA before they were defeated by Japan again to end day two, this time 61-59.
Australian coach Brad Dubberley admits his men have been poor at times over the past couple of days, but he has also seen plenty of encouraging signs that they are capable of lifting the trophy after Sunday’s final.
And the coach is a good judge of form, having led the Steelers to every gold medal match at the Paralympic Games or World Championships since the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games.
“We have made a lot of mistakes here, a lot of silly unforced errors and a failure to do some fundamental stuff. But we’ll keep doing our homework and make sure we come away a much stronger team,” Dubberley said.
“I want to see a better effort from the boys for the rest of this tournament, we need better production here of the fundamentals of the game.
“We know we’re not a team that should be losing by big margins against these teams but we’ll keep progressing. We ‘re really looking at the big picture of World Championships  and Tokyo [2020 Paralympic Games].
Tomorrow, the Steelers plays Japan at 11am and Team USA at 5pm to end the qualification rounds.
The second and third ranked team will then battle it in a semi-final on Sunday at 11am (AEST) to decide who faces off against the top qualifier in the gold medal at 2pm.
Japan Para Championships – Chiba, Japan
Australian results – qualification round
Game 1: AUS 58-59 USA
Game 2: AUS 41-60 JPN
Game 3: AUS 60-59 USA
Game 4: AUS 61-59 JPN
By APC Media