There is plenty to get excited about for Wheelchair Rugby League in 2022 and Leeds Rhinos captain James Simpson says he is relishing the opportunity to perform on the biggest stages for both club and country.
The 35-year-old enjoyed an unforgettable campaign with the Rhinos in 2021, leading them to a remarkable Treble before representing his country in the Autumn Test series against France.
With a home World Cup coming up at the end of the year and the Wheelchair Super League boosted by the introduction of several new teams, Simpson believes the sport will only continue going from strength to strength in what promises to be another groundbreaking season.
“Coming off the back of COVID, I never expected 2021 to be such a big season. But having had the Challenge Cup Final live on the BBC, the Super League Grand Final on Sky and two England Wheelchair games televised, the growth of the game throughout last year was absolutely massive,” explained Simpson.
“This year in 2022 is going to be all of that and more, and I can already tell now building up to the season starting that this is going to be such a huge year for our sport which I’m really excited to be a part of.
“Things like increasing the number of teams in the Wheelchair Super League, having more television time and giving it more marketing will make it bigger and better than it’s ever been before, so that by the time we reach the Rugby League World Cup in October we can use it as a launchpad to grow the sports’ popularity even further.”
For the Rhinos, last season proved to be their most successful yet. The side broke all kinds of records and cemented their place as the country’s top Wheelchair Rugby League team as they went unbeaten on their way to securing a historic treble- becoming the first team to take home the League Leaders’, Super League and Challenge Cup trophies in the same season.
That success gained even more prominence by being showcased to millions across the country with both Finals broadcast live on national TV, another first for the Wheelchair game and something which Simpson believes gives the sport a huge platform to build upon in 2022.
“For us as a club, we had such an incredible year. All the players got the chance to appear in a televised final, we had players playing Internationally for England and Wales, so we’re getting more used to big spectacles and big games which can only be good for the game to operate at a higher level of professionalism.
“Having all the games at the Wheelchair World Cup televised and placed on the same platform as the Men’s and Women’s competitions is absolutely huge, and it’s a brilliant opportunity for our sport to not only grow here, but globally too.
“We’ve put in the hard yards over the past 10 to 15 years behind the scenes with people paying off their own back to represent their country and livestreaming games on Facebook just to get to this point. Now all of that work that people did is finally being repaid and I feel like the game is finally getting to where it belongs now.”
“To win all three domestic trophies under quite difficult circumstances was incredible and I was extremely proud of the resilience our players showed to keep going and achieve all the goals we set out at the start of the year.”
All attentions have now turned towards the 2022 season, and with pre-season training set to begin next week Simpson believes it will be vital to get off on the right foot as the competition this year will be stronger than ever before.
“Our pre-season begins this month and we’re not going into it thinking we’re treble winners, we’re going at it with a clean slate getting back to basics and try to win it all again this year, because teams will be gunning for us.
“You’ve got teams like Wigan and Warrington coming into the competition who will be determined to challenge for silverware and obviously want to try get one over Leeds Rhinos.
“It’s definitely improving how we do things as a club, because people are making sure they up their standards to maintain that level of success and hold themselves to the responsibility of performing in front of the cameras and big crowds.”
The Leeds Rhinos Wheelchair Rugby League team will begin their 2022 training sessions later this month and new players are always welcome to come down and give the sport a try.
To get involved and for more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.