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It was an ironic case of mission ‘unaccomplished’ for the Australian Development Squad who returned home from a successful tour to New Zealand this week, leaving Australian Steelers selectors with plenty to think about.

The tour’s objective was to test the 10 selected athletes, see who measured up and streamline the number of candidates vying for selection for next year’s Paralympic Games in Paris.

Instead, Australian Steelers assistant coach Jason Lees said selectors now faced an even greater challenge after the resounding performances of the entire Development Squad.

After taking the gold medal from the New Zealand National Championships with a 16-goal win over Waikato in Sunday’s final, the Australians backed up two days later to sweep their two-match series against the New Zealand Development Squad, winning both contests by 28 goals.

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Lees, also the head coach of the Australian Development Squad, said his high expectations for each member of the touring party were well and truly exceeded.

“We outlined exactly what we were looking for and the style of game we wanted to play. It was really pleasing that everyone really took that on board and absolutely gave it 100 per cent. We got better as the week went on as well,” Lees said.

“We thought we might get some more answers about which way we might go from here as we try to settle on our squad for Paris [Paralympics in 2024], but it hasn’t really answered anything for us.

“The tour gave us some more selection headaches, not less, which is exactly what we want.

“Everyone put their name up there and have made it tricky for us. We’ve got some hard discussions coming up and hard decisions to make, that’s for sure.”

Lees pointed to results from the squad’s tour of New Zealand last year – fourth place at the national championships and a 38-goal loss to the WheelBlacks – to describe how much progress had been made.

“To go over there and not only compete, but to dominate the way we did is a great reward for the amount of work that everyone has put in over the past 12 months.

“I’m really pleased for the athletes, especially those travelling internationally for the first time and the athletes who were part of the tough tour last year.”

Australian Wheelchair Rugby Development Squad (AUD) – NZL Tour Results

Two-match Series vs New Zealand Development Squad (NZD)

Game 1: AUD 56 – 28 NZD
Game 2: AUD 54 – 26 NZD

New Zealand National Championships

Final: AUD 56 – 28 Waikato
Semi-final: AUD 58 – 33 Canterbury

Pool Rounds

Auckland 49 – 47 AUD
AUD 62 – 32 Canterbury
AUD 59 – 48 Waikato

Australian Wheelchair Rugby Development Squad – NZL Tour

Brayden Foxley-Conolly – QLD – 3.5
Robyn Lambird – WA – 3.0*
Ella Sabljak – QLD – 2.5*
Shae Graham – VIC – 2.5*
Jayden Jackson – NSW – 2.0
Liliana Prucha – WA – 2.0*
Tai Matin-Page (C) – SA – 1.5
Rubie Gallagher – TAS – 1.0*
Beau Vernon – QLD – TBC
Ben Fawcett – VIC – 0.5

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By: Tim Mannion, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 8 September 2023
Image: New Zealand Wheelchair Rugby