The competitors display their tenacity playing wheelchair NRL. Queensland players like Ipswich-based Matt Collins are helping build awareness of the sport's benefits.
The competitors display their tenacity playing wheelchair NRL. Queensland players like Ipswich-based Matt Collins are helping build awareness of the sport's benefits.

Fast and rewarding: Enjoying footy in a wheelchair

RUGBY LEAGUE: Forget the latest State of Origin score, Ipswich sportsman Matt Collins can't want to represent Queensland again.

Although he can walk and jog a little despite a number of restrictive injuries, Collins loves the excitement provided by his latest sporting conquest - becoming better at wheelchair NRL.

"I absolutely love playing it. It's one of the best things ever,'' Collins said.

"Rugby league is actually an all-inclusive sport so anybody can actually play it, as long as you can get in a wheelchair.

"It's a very physically demanding game with the constant pushing around of the wheelchairs. But other than that, it is very, very much the same as rugby league.''

Defence member Collins has just returned from Sydney where he represented Queensland for the first time in the dynamic sport.

Although NSW won 54-4 at Sydney Olympic Park, Collins said the Queenslanders were in the infancy of the sport having given NSW a massive head start.

"It was the fifth year that the challenge has been run but it's the fourth year it's actually been referred to as the State of Origin,'' Collins said.

"The game is actually quite new in Queensland so we're still trying to build it up here.''

 

Queensland Wheelchair NRL representative Matt Collins is just back from the State of Origin in Sydney.
Queensland Wheelchair NRL representative Matt Collins is just back from the State of Origin in Sydney. Cordell Richardson

Collins played second row in rugby union for 16 years before two ankle reconstructions, major knee surgery, serious meniscus damage and nine bulging discs in his back halted that sporting career.

"I haven't been on an actual footy field since 2013,'' he said.

"This is my first year playing the adaptive sports.''

After being unable to continue his regular sport, he attended a wheelchair NRL come and try day on the Sunshine Coast through the Mates4Mates program and hasn't looked back.

When the annual State of Origin series was offered, he wasted little time expressing his keenness to play.

"The biggest challenge for me is understanding the mechanics of being in the wheelchair and not being able to use my legs,'' he said.

"But in saying that, that's probably one of the best parts of it as well because it gives me an understanding about those people that have a disability and what they go through on a day-to-day basis.''

Collins is in his sixth year in Ipswich, working in the joint logistics unit at RAAF Amberley.

Before that he travelled widely after growing up in northern NSW.

He's delighted to see awareness of wheelchair NRL growing with 6500 people viewing the live feed of the latest State of Origin game.

Collins was happy to recommend the sport.

"Especially people who have got some sort of disability or injury, the medical benefits - both physical and mental - of participating in a sport are just phenomenal,'' he said.

"And it's helped my mental state a lot too since I started.''

For Collins, his next representative opportunity could come in October when the English team tours Australia.

The Queenslanders are hoping to get at least one game in Brisbane to see how the English play.

 

Qld Wheelchair NRL representative Matt Collins knows the benefits of playing the all-inclusive sport.
Qld Wheelchair NRL representative Matt Collins knows the benefits of playing the all-inclusive sport. Cordell Richardson

Exciting challenge for everyone

WHEELCHAIR NRL involves five players on an indoor court at one time, with another five representatives on the bench.

The arena is larger than a single basketball court and there is unlimited interchange of players for the 80 minute game.

"Think of Oztag in a wheelchair but with full contact,'' Ipswich and state player Matt Collins said, explaining what it's like.

"It's pretty much NRL so you've got to score the tries and put the points on the board.

"You've got to have a lot of tactics.

"When you're in a chair, it's quite difficult to manoeuvre with but it's a big challenge.

"There's some boys out there that can really move their chairs around.''

Able-bodied competitors test their skills alongside people with a disability.

"To make a tackle, you've got to stop the chair first so the only way to do that is to put chair on chair,'' he said. "And sometimes people come out.''

But Collins said the overriding buzz of being able to compete against different people makes the sport so attractive.

"One of the guys on our team - one of the co-captains (Shaun Harre) - is actually a full able-bodied person,'' Collins said.

"He started playing the sport so that he could play footy with his step brother.''

A come and try day is being held at Morayfield Sports Complex from 10am-noon on Sunday.

For more information, visit the South East Queensland Wheelchair Rugby League website.



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