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Australia’s wheelchair rugby side, The Steelers, will need to draw on their extensive big-game experience if they are to take their dominance of the popular Paralympic sport beyond Tokyo 2020 and into a second decade.

Paralympics Australia proudly announced its 12-player Steelers squad for the Tokyo Paralympics on Thursday. It features eight wheelchair rugby gold medallists, including Captain Ryley Batt, who is also Co-Captain of the Australian Paralympic Team, and Steelers mainstays Chris Bond, Andrew Edmondson, Ben Fawcett, Andrew Harrison, Jason Lees, Josh Hose and Jayden Warn, who were each part of the Team that won Australia’s unprecedented second consecutive Paralympic gold medal, at Rio 2016. Batt, Bond, Harrison, Lees and Hose remain from the side that secured The Steelers’ breakthrough triumph, at London 2012.

The experienced core will be joined in Tokyo by Games debutants Mick Ozanne, Jake Howe, Richard Voris and Shae Graham. Graham is set to become the first woman to represent The Steelers at the Games.

“No one outside of our Team at these Games has won a Paralympic gold medal,” Paralympics Australia’s Wheelchair Rugby Head Coach Brad Dubberley said.

“We’ve won the last two and no player will be there from the US Team from Beijing 2008 when they won. Japan knocked us off by a point at the Worlds in 2018 but we’ve been in every World Championship and Paralympic final since Beijing in 2008. Big-game experience is something we’ve got that no other Team really has.”

For all their success, however, The Steelers will have to overcome a severely disrupted lead-in to the Games if they are to extend their record.

“Our training camp in Tokyo will be the first time we’ve had our whole squad together since March last year,” Dubberley said.

“It’s been a real mission for us. Even for our quarantine before we leave, we can’t get Ryles (Batt), Edmo (Edmondson) and Dicky (Voris) there for that. We’ll have our four training sessions together in Tokyo and a practice game against Canada and that’ll be about it. So, what we’ll be drawing on for this campaign is experience and, particularly, that big game experience.

“We also know we’ve got an aura around our Team. When we go to tournaments with people like Ryley on our side it has our opponents freaking out a bit. We’re still going to be one of the Teams to beat, regardless of how difficult our run-in has been.”

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Paralympics Australia Chief Executive Lynne Anderson said she was proud of the way PA’s Australian wheelchair rugby high performance program had maintained its place as a world power in the sport.

“It’s been extremely tough for our Steelers over the past 18 months, but the growth of this Team has been a long time in the making,” Anderson said.

“Australia’s wheelchair rugby high performance program, managed by Paralympics Australia, is now stronger than ever.

“With firm support from the Australian Institute of Sport, we’ve been able to invest in ways to build on our Team’s success, including adding a National Performance Director, Paul Kiteley, who will play a leading role in delivering our Wheelchair Rugby 2021–2028 High Performance Strategy.

“We’ve also added a National Pathways Manager, Sam Fox, and the Team has been the beneficiary of some incredible work performed by our Paralympic Innovation Team, led by Dr Ross Pinder.

“So I want to say congratulations and good luck to our Steelers representatives for Tokyo 2020, but also a big thank you to all those who have been helping to consolidate the Team’s success and building a strong foundation for the future of our wheelchair rugby program.”

Australian Team Chef de Mission Kate McLoughlin said: “The Steelers are a treasured part of the Paralympics Australia family. It’s been such a privilege watching this Team dominate international wheelchair rugby and seeing all the work that’s gone on behind the scenes to make it happen.

“We know their preparations for these Games haven’t been easy but, if there’s any group of athletes who can produce a stirring result in a big moment, it’s this group.”

By: David Sygall, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 29 July 2021