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The Australian Steelers are ready to put a frustrating Musholm Cup campaign behind them and reset for the Wheelchair Rugby World Championship in October.

The team concluded the tournament overnight in Denmark with losses to Canada (55-48) and the host nation (56-51), finishing winless from their six matches.

Desperate to salvage victory in their last clash against Denmark, Australia fought hard at both ends of the court to stay level at quarter-time and half-time however nine turnovers in the second half thwarted their hopes.

“Denmark came out with what I would say is their strongest line-up to finish out that game. Their two 3.5s were able to put us under a lot of pressure,” Australian assistant coach Jason Lees said.

“It was an interesting game, there were a few momentum swings. I felt like we had momentum through the second and third quarters and probably the first half of the fourth, but there were a couple of minutes at the end where we lost our way and the score got away from us.”

It was a disappointing but seemingly fitting end to the tour for the Steelers, who were plagued by problems since leaving Australia on July 31.

Two members of the squad – head coach Brad Dubberley and NSW player Richard Voris – returned positive COVID tests at the team’s training base in Italy shortly after their arrival. Their requirement to enter isolation compounded other challenges they faced, including travel delays and issues with luggage enroute to Europe; a broken backrest on key player Andrew Edmondson’s rugby wheelchair; a fire near their accommodation; and having to drive 1,600 kilometres over more than 20 hours in a van when their Milan to Copenhagen flight was rescheduled at late notice for three days later, changing their arrival time to after the first game.

Still, weary from travel and battered by their misfortune, the Steelers showed admirable grit and support for each other to meet each challenge as it arose.

Lees praised the whole squad for their professionalism and said despite the challenges, the trip had delivered a range of benefits..

“The positives are definitely our newer players. We had three players here at their first-ever [international] competition and we can take lot of confidence knowing that those three have gained invaluable experience,” Lees said.

“I feel like we’ve made improvements throughout this week and I think if we can continue to build on those improvements, that will put us in good stead at Worlds.”

With both Canada and Denmark in their pool for the World Championship beginning on October 10, Lees said they could expect a much stronger showing from the Australians when they next clash.

“We have a lot of video footage of both teams now to go away and analyse so we’re leaving here with plenty to think about and to work on.

“For us, we really have to eliminate the number of unforced errors we make. Our offence has probably been not where it needs to be, probably for the last 12 months.

“At Worlds, there are going to be a lot of very close games. We need to make sure that we’re giving ourselves the best opportunity by finishing strong in each quarter and scoring last where we can.”

Lees retired after Tokyo 2020 and 230 international games over more than a decade. Since making the transition to the coaching ranks, he has taken control of Australia’s development squad in addition to his assistant coaches duties with the Steelers.

Asked how he enjoyed his first taste as head coach while Dubberley was in isolation, Lees gave the impression that he was more than happy to hand the keys back for now.

It was really unfortunate that Brad wasn’t here but I’ve been working really closely with him over the phone. We’ve been talking after every game. Although he’s not here, he’s definitely had a lot of input and we’ve bounced ideas off each other,” he said.

“I’ve enjoyed the experience of being able to be head coach for this comp but I’m definitely looking forward to having Brad back for Worlds,” he added with a wry smile.

1st – Canada
2nd – Denmark
3rd – Australia

Day 3
Australia 48 def by Canada 55
Australia 51 def by Denmark 56
Canada 58 def Denmark 41

Day 2
Australia 56 def by Denmark 59
Canada 52 def Denmark 49
Australia 49 def by Canada 59

Day 1
Canada 51 def Denmark 49
Australia 48 def by Denmark 58
Australia 52 def by Canada 70

By: Tim Mannion, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 11 August 2022