Australian wheelchair rugby’s bright future will enter its next phase next month when Paralympics Australia’s national development squad embarks on its first-ever international tour.
A squad of 10 athletes will contest the 2022 New Zealand National Championships as an Australian invitational team, marking an exciting milestone for PA’s wheelchair rugby program.
PA’s National Performance Director for wheelchair rugby Paul Kiteley said the tour will symbolise immense progress made by the program since 2020 to uncover more players, more coaches and connect the pathway for those with elite potential.
“At the start of this process, we set ourselves some tough KPIs around identifying more talent, targeting certain impairment types and classifications, bringing more female athletes into the high-performance program and building playing depth nationwide, not just in the usual hotspots,” Kiteley said. “When you see how things have progressed, you can’t help but think ‘wow, they are solid numbers now.’”
“From where we’ve come from to where we are now, I think we’re building the foundations to make a huge impact at the Paris Games [in 2024], but beyond that, it looks like our sport is in great shape to really go forward and develop a system that can sustain success on a long-term basis.”
Australia’s lack of depth and over-reliance on its experienced stars has long been considered a weakness by rivals internationally, even during the era from 2008 to 2018 in which the Steelers featured in every Paralympic and World Championship final.
That weakness is now becoming a strength.
With funding and support from the Australian Institute of Sport supercharging PA’s capability – including the provision of a solutions grant in 2020 – the program’s recent work has been highlighted by:
- transitioning more than 20 talented athletes into elite programs nationally;
- facilitating ‘talent-transfer’ opportunities for athletes from other sports;
- boosting the recruitment of female athletes;
- hosting three development camps;
- nurturing coaching talent including the employment of development coaches at national and state level.
“Without the crucial funding and excellent pathway support provided by the AIS over the past 15 months, our progress to strengthen the depth of elite wheelchair rugby talent would not have been possible,” Kiteley said.
“Everyone within the program is really excited and proud to be in this position.
“The contribution and dedication from our own staff has been enormous, but the fact that we have had the backing of the AIS to be able bring this development group together, host camps, purchase new equipment and provide resources and infrastructure to enable more athletes and coaches to train and ensure their pathway is fast-tracked is a real feather in the cap of the AIS and the whole system working together.”
The New Zealand National Championships will be contested from 2-4 September at TSB Stadium in New Plymouth.
Australian Development Squad for New Zealand Tour: Blake Cochrane (3.5), Robyn Lambird (3.0), Luke Matthews (2.5), Cam Whittaker (2.0), Jayden Jackson (2.0), Justin Goh (2.0), Tai Martin-Page (1.5), Chad Graham (1.0), Rubie Gallagher (1.0), Damian Mortaud (0.5).
By: Tim Mannion, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 16 August 2022