There’s fast-paced action, end to end tries, and tactical game plans.
There’s fierce determination, intensity, and competitiveness.
There’s big hits and even bigger collisions as players crash, block and trap for their teammates.
This is not your average sport.
This is Wheelchair Rugby, the fastest game on wheels.
Over the past nine weeks, a plethora of Australia’s best and most decorated players have competed weekly at Aqualink Box Hill, for the chance to win the Victoria Protect Wheelchair Rugby Cup.
Representing four of Victoria’s strongest rugby union clubs - Melbourne Unicorns, Power House, Harlequins and Box Hill – the dedicated players make up all genders, ages and abilities.
Since its inclusion in the Paralympic Games in 2000 and the Victorian Wheelchair Rugby Competitions partnership with Rugby Victoria in 2017, the popularity and standard of wheelchair rugby has gone from strength to strength in Victoria.
Brad Dubberley, Head Coach of the Australian Steelers Wheelchair Rugby Team and Power House player, is one of many past and present Australian Steelers Olympic stars who feature in the competition and is proud of the remarkable progress made.
“Here in Victoria, we are lucky that the competition, run by Disability Sport and Recreation and Rugby Victoria, is phenomenal. It is the best local competition in Australia,” said Dubberley.
“To have four strong teams is great. Great numbers and great competition. Everyone can be everyone here.”
The premier player for the top of the table Melbourne Unicorns, and the stand-out in her sides semi-final defeat on Monday, is Shae Graham.
Graham is the first female athlete to represent Australia in Wheelchair Rugby and is paving the way for all people with disabilities as ambassador for The Good Village - an Australian Institute of Sport initiative to encourage kids health.
“The season has been really good to come back and play competitive rugby. It’s been great to be back in the wheelchair rugby community and be playing against each other,” said Graham.
“We are lucky in Victoria to have a really big community and we have the opportunity to have four teams that are highly competitive and play against each other.
“Every year it gets more competitive, which is a really, really awesome thing.”
The number one world ranked Australian Steelers have won two consecutive gold medals at the Paralympic Games, and as a previously all-male side, will be aiming for a third with Graham.
As the ultimate reward, Graham has her sights firmly focused on representing her country at the delayed Tokyo 20201 Paralympic Games.
“It’s been a long 12 months of not being together and training separately all over Australia.”
“We’re training like we’re going and we’re just waiting to find out what happens.
“I’ll need to wait until I’m on the plane to know it’s definitely happening.”
Brad Dubberley is no stranger to Paralympic success, having won Gold Medals as Coach at the London and Rio Games and a Silver Medal as an athlete at the Sydney 2000 Games.
Dubberley credits the elite level of the Victoria Protect Wheelchair Rugby Competition to the nation’s continued success.
“We have a pipeline happening here with some of our young players coming through the mix.”
“For the Aussie guys, it’s great to get that game play we don’t normally get. Last year, we obviously didn’t play anyone.
“To get some competition heading into Nationals and hopefully the Paralympics in a few months time is so important.
“We are preparing as though it is going to go ahead. We’ll wait and see what happens. Our team is ready to play. I’m very confident in our team and players and staff. If it goes ahead, like we’re expecting, I think we’ll go pretty well.”
The Victorian Wheelchair Rugby Cup hits its crescendo on Saturday with the third-placed Harlequins and fourth-placed Power House securing their places in the Grand Final.
Captain of the Harlequins, and former Australian Steeler, Jason Ellerey is looking forward to the chance to play off for the ultimate prize.
“Power House will be a tough team to beat and have been really competitive all season,” Ellerey said.
“All year through it’s been really close with each team. Going in on Saturday it is going to be another challenge, but hopefully we can come away with the chocolates.
“The competition just keeps getting stronger and stronger each year. More players come into it; more people get behind it - which is fantastic for the sport.
“It means a lot (to be involved). It’s fantastic to have the support to be able to have a competition such as this and the venue to do it. It’s well put together by everyone involved.”
As for his opponent on the day, Brad Dubberley is just thrilled to be on the court playing the sport he loves after 14 years as Steelers’ Head Coach.
“I’m just excited about playing in a final again.”
“Nowadays I coach the National team, so I don’t play too much. To be able to play on the court again with these guys is just great fun and very competitive.”
To see some of Australia’s finest Wheelchair Rugby Players in action, be at the 2021 Protect Wheelchair Rugby Cup Grand Final on Saturday 24th April at Aqualink Box Hill, beginning at 10:45am. The event will be livestreamed by My Sport Live and Disability Sport and Recreation from 10:30am.