Maintaining control of their Paralympic destiny will be the primary motivation for the Australian Steelers announced today by Paralympics Australia to contest the Asia Oceania Wheelchair Rugby Championship next month in Tokyo.
Only victory at the five-nation tournament will secure direct qualification to the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.
Defeat will bring a much bumpier journey to the Paralympic stage, via a do-or-die tournament against seven rival nations representing every region and fighting for the three remaining spots – at a still unknown venue, in a still unconfirmed country, during dates still to be advised by the sport’s governing body, World Wheelchair Rugby.
Rather than face that alternate path of uncertainty, Australian Steelers head coach Brad Dubberley said several tough calls were made to select the 12 athletes best placed to become champions of Asia Oceania and secure a ticket to Paris.
There are two changes to the Australian team that won the World Championship last October with Braydon Foxley-Conolly and Jayden Warn getting their chance.
Experienced campaigners Richard Voris and Ben Fawcett make way despite a combined total of more than 200 international appearances between them.
“We made some very difficult selection decisions but that’s what we want. We want more athletes banging down the door to be picked, we want the level of depth in our squad that makes it hard to select our team for big tournaments,” Dubberley said.
“In our selection meetings, we kept talking about the need to stay focussed on picking a team that can win the Asia Oceania Championship. It’s not about Paris 2024 just yet. It’s about avoiding the qualifying tournament and controlling our own destiny over the next 12 months to ensure our preparation for Paris is as flawless as possible.
“If we don’t win this tournament, things will get tougher. The final qualification tournament could be anywhere in the world and will most likely mean extensive travel costs and a big strain on us financially which could have an impact on our training camps and plans before the Paralympics.
“We obviously want to avoid those headaches and with the line-up we have selected, I’m feeling confident that we can get the job done in Tokyo.”
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The return of Warn after an extended break from the sport and the rise of QLD sensation Foxley-Conolly will provide some exciting new options at both ends of the floor.
“Both those guys will play an important role for us. Braydon is an up-and-comer who is obviously not only in our plans for Paris, but also LA in 2028 and Brisbane 2032. We need him to get some big game experience against the best international opponents and this tournament will provide that opportunity,” Dubberley said.
“Jayden is a big addition and it’s great having him back. He brings a lot of experience and some height which gives us a lot more flexibility to a number of our key line-ups.”
World Championship winning captain Chris Bond will return to lead his team and will also reignite the most explosive combination in the sport, with Ryley Batt also set to return from a shoulder injury that has sidelined him since last year.
“Above all else, we’re just looking forward to ripping in again on the big stage,” Dubberley said.
“A lot of our guys haven’t played at a big tournament since World Championships last year and we haven’t had our full-strength team together all year.
“Having our senior players ready to go gives the rest of the squad a lot of confidence. A player like Ryley, even just in a training camp, brings so much experience and helps push everyone else to improve as well.
“Coming back from injury, he puts a lot of pressure on himself. We’re not putting any additional pressure on him, but we know it’s great having him back in our squad and doing what he does best.”
The 2023 Asia Oceania Wheelchair Rugby Championships will take place from June 29 to July 2.
Australia will play Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and Thailand. With the winner qualifying for Paris 2024, the next two top teams will compete at the 2024 WWR Paralympics Qualification Tournament against eight nations including the hosts, two teams from Europe, two from the Americas and the next highest ranked nation not already qualified. The three medal winning teams will snatch the final three places on offer for Paris. For the remaining five teams, their Paralympic hopes will end.
The bid process to become the host nation for the 2024 WWR Paralympics Qualification Tournament is underway.
France, Great Britain and Denmark are the only nations qualified for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games to date.
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Australian Steelers – Asia-Oceania Wheelchair Rugby Championship
Tokyo, Japan – 29 June to 2 July.
Classification – Athlete – State
3.5 – Chris Bond (C) – QLD
3.5 – Ryley Batt – QLD
3.5 – Brayden Foxley-Conolly – QLD
3.0 – Jayden Warn – VIC
2.5 – Shae Graham* – VIC
2.5 – Ella Sabljak* – QLD
2.0 – Andrew Edmondson – NSW
2.0 – Josh Nicholson – QLD
1.0 – Jake Howe – WA
0.5 – Michael Ozanne – QLD
0.5 – James McQuillan – VIC
0.5 – Emilie Miller* – NSW
*denotes a 0.5 bonus as a female athlete
By: Tim Mannion, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 12 May 2023
Image: Lars Møller-Parasport Danmark