The Australian Steelers’ unexpected and unwanted detour to the Paris Paralympic Games will see them arrive in Wellington, New Zealand desperate to put themselves back on track.
Thrashed by Japan in the Asia Oceania qualifying final in Tokyo last July to miss direct passage to their sport’s pinnacle event, the reigning World Champions are the world’s highest ranked team still fighting for one of three remaining spots in the Paris 2024 Paralympic draw.
And so it comes down to this – the WWR Paralympic Qualification Tournament beginning March 20 at New Zealand’s Campus of Innovation and Sport.
Four days, eight teams, two pools and three medals on offer. No medal, no ticket to Paris.
Paralympics Australia (PA) today confirmed the 12 athletes who have been given the responsibility to ensure the Steelers’ Paris campaign does not end six months too early.
Head coach of PA’s wheelchair rugby high performance program Brad Dubberley said the composition of the squad was one of the toughest selection decisions he has made in the role he has held since 2006.
“To finalise this team of 12 athletes, we had some very tough conversations with our athletes who missed out, but the depth of our squad is huge for us,” Dubberley said.
“I can’t remember being in a better position in terms of squad depth coming into a Paralympic or World Championship year.
“But this is the team that we are putting our faith in to get the job done. It’s going to be intriguing to see how it unfolds, but it’s going to be really exciting.”
After taking over the captaincy from Ryley Batt 18 months ago, Chris Bond will once again spearhead the Steelers in Wellington, hoping to add to his impressive leadership resume which already includes the 2022 World Championship and 2023 International World Cup (IWC).
Mick Ozanne is the only member of the IWC winning team to miss selection for this event, while selectors have also added rising star James McQuillan and experienced duo Josh Nicholson and Jake Howe to bolster Dubberley’s options at both ends of the court.
“The event is all about gaining confidence and building momentum,” Dubberley said.
“The goal is obviously to win the whole tournament, not just secure Paralympic qualification, but do it in a way that showcases our whole squad and not just the line-ups who are the most established and have been the most successful.
“Ideally, I won’t need to look for our key lineup, I can rely on our emerging lineups and every player to contribute.”
Australia, currently ranked second in the world, are favourites to win their Pool after their matches against Colombia (10th), Germany (9th) and Switzerland (12th). Meanwhile Canada (ranked 5th) will fancy their chances of finishing on top of Pool B against Brazil (ranked 11) Netherlands (15th) and host nation New Zealand (8th).
“Everyone is excited to get going, but there is an element of having to win this event first before we can truly start thinking about Paris properly and that’s how our conversations have gone so far. This is our team for this event, selection for Paris is taking place later this year so there is still work to be done,” Dubberley said.
“There is a good vibe but we know we need to keep things in check.
“We’re only going to this tournament because we missed our first opportunity. Now we need to maximise the growth and learning gathered from this experience and turn it into a positive.
Reigning Paralympic champions Great Britain (currently ranked fourth), the United States (first) Denmark, (seventh), Japan (three) and host nation France (sixth) have already secured their position for the eight-team Paris 2024 wheelchair rugby competition.
The Australian Steelers will contest the 2024 WWR Paralympic Qualification Tournament in Wellington, New Zealand from March 20-24.
WWR Paralympic Qualification Tournament: Wellington, New Zealand – March 20-24, 2024
Chris Bond – captain
Australia (ranked 2nd)
Brazil (ranked 11)
New Zealand (8th)
By: Tim Mannion, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 25 January 2023
Image: Megumi Masuda