From Friday, 5 - Sunday, 7 October 2018, the GIO NSW Gladiators, Suncorp QLD Cyclones, Victoria Protect Thunder and the Australian Invictus Wheelchair Rugby Team met at Penrith Valley Regional Sports Centre for three hard-hitting days of the best wheelchair rugby Australia has to offer!
The first two days of competition saw some fierce rugby on display during the round robin matches. The Australian Invictus team showed their strength, remaining undefeated in their exhibition matches although were not eligible to complete in the final.
The Suncorp QLD Cyclones learnt from last years bronze medal result and finished the round robin at the top of the ladder with impressive 50 – 42 and 53 – 45 wins over Victoria and NSW respectively.
Day Two concluded with the gold medal qualifier between Victoria Protect Thunder and GIO NSW Gladiators. The two had previously met earlier in the day where NSW were able to edge out VIC 53 – 46, however it was a different story in the qualifier with Victoria able to turn the table with an impressive 58 – 43 win over the local team.
Finals Day saw two hard-hitting contests from the four competing teams. Reigning National Champions found themselves in the bronze medal exhibition match against the Australian Invictus team. In what was described at the match of the Championship, the lead changed several times in a see-sawing clash which saw the wheelchair rugby experience and tactical nous of NSW paired with the brute physicality of Australian Invictus. Jeff White, captain of Australian Invictus took control for his team with a series of impressive length-of-the-court tries, a feature of his 25-try performance. With the clock winding down and scores level, the NSW captain and Australian Steeler, Andrew Edmonson produced a miraculous finish to the game, strategically guiding NSW home in the latter stages with some clutch plays. Scoring almost half of the NSW team’s tries, Edmonson was crucial in elevating NSW to the bronze medal.
An enthralling contest was set between state rivals QLD and Victoria for the Gold Medal final of the 2018 GIO Wheelchair Rugby National Championship. With 2017 National Champions, NSW out of contention, both QLD and Victoria earnt their place to battle it out for the national title. As many had predicted, Queensland escaped to an early lead, lead by the efforts of Australian Steeler, Chris Bond and Ben Newton early on. Sporting different tactics and a changed line-up from previous days, Victoria had prepared well and stayed hot on the tail of QLD throughout the first half of the match. Featuring several experienced Steelers int heir line-up, Victoria were able to successfully free Andrew Harrison to return serve to Bond, with his personal tally of 17 tries seeing Victoria take the lead in the third-period and set-up a mouth-watering final period.
Ultimately, Queensland looked the fresher of the two sides and began to regain the ascendancy in the last quarter. A standout final period from captain Chris Bond sealing the result 48 – 44 in a memorable final! A huge congratulations to the 2018 GIO Wheelchair Rugby National Champions, Suncorp Queensland Cyclones!
Disability Sports Australia would like to thank the Naming Rights sponsor, GIO who continue to champion wheelchair rugby in Australia and provide all athletes an opportunity to participate. Additionally, DSA would like to thank Sport Australia (formally the Australian Sports Commission) for their continued support of wheelchair rugby and sports for people with a disability.
The 2018 GIO Wheelchair Rugby National Championship would not have been a success without the support of out incredible volunteer workforce and the ongoing support from Blive Streaming, Tom Brassil, Australian Defence Force, Rugby Australia, SG Fleet, Eventeamwork, ISC and International Day for People with a Disability, along with our official accommodation, Novotel West HQ, and official venue, Penrith Valley Regional Sports Centre.
All photos are courtesy of Tom Brassil.