Just three days after watching Warrington Wolves lose their opening Super League game against Leeds Rhinos, I was presented with the opportunity to go watch them again. But this was no ordinary game of rugby league, this was something different, something very special indeed – and being there was simply brilliant.
For the first time in the Northern Hemisphere, there was a competitive game of physical disability rugby league (PDRL). This wasn’t a one off, or a demonstration game, this was a fully competitive, extremely physical and thoroughly engaging game of rugby league. With PDRL already established in Australia, Warrington’s team game about through the Wolves Foundation and an unlikely champion in Adam Hills – from Channel 4’s The Last Leg. Leeds came to PDRL shortly after Warrington, so the sport had just what it needed – a rivalry.
So to the game, which took place at Victoria Park Warrington before approximately 1000 very excited people, many of whom like myself had been at the Halliwell James Stadium on Thursday night. PDRL is played in a 9 aside format, with two able bodied players per team, and 7 team mates with different physical disabilities. The pitch is slightly narrowed, but full length and each half is 25 minutes. The RFL provided the officials, but the players provided the entertainment – in droves.
Rugby league is a great sport, it’s fast, physical, skilful, tactical and above all inclusive. This game, like Thursday, offered every element that makes the sport so special. The players were enthusiastic, passionate, and clearly gifted. The hits were heavy, the carries committed, and the tactics instinctively crafted.
Leeds scored first, and never surrendered the lead. Despite my enthusiastic cheering and shouting, Warrington couldn’t get over the line, much like Thursday night all over again. Both teams had traded tries and kicks with the final score being 22-10 to Leeds who lifted inaugural trophy. The return date fixture is already planned, and I’m hoping to skip over the Pennines to watch again.
I’m new to PDRL, but I also remember the time too when I was new to rugby league in general. That day changed my perception of a sport I didn’t know very well at all, and so did today. It wasn’t about the players, it was about the rugby, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Clearly there is a level of support already in existence, but what I hope more than anything is that the remaining Super League Clubs commit to the PDRL in the same way that Warrington and Leeds already have. Based on today’s game they’d be foolish not to.