Rhinos star and England Wheelchair captain tom Halliwlell led his team to a famous victory in the Wheelchair World Cup Final against France
Halliwell produced a player of the match performance to secure England’s wheelchair team the Rugby League World Cup title – and then got a congratulations message from his hero Rob Burrow.
The Leeds Rhinos player scored the winning try just seconds from the hooter as a world record crowd of 4,526 collectively lost their heads in Manchester, England gaining revenge on two consecutive world final defeats to France with a narrow 28-24 win.
Halliwell was still in primary school when Burrow scored his famous solo try in the 2011 Grand Final.
And he fought back the tears when told how his hero had penned him a personal message as he watched on television.
“Tom I’m honoured to be a role model for you growing up,” Burrow wrote. “I’m not a World Cup winner like you.”
No wonder an emotional Halliwell, who also captained England to success, admitted it was all just a bit too much to take in.
“I was recreating his try from that Grand Final but his was from 40 yards out and mine was from four yards,” he joked.
“That’s the best feeling in the world. We’ve been working so hard for the past five years to get to this point and it’s so good to know that work has paid off. It’s just nice to get what we deserved.
“What we’ve seen in the last few weeks has been ground-breaking for our sport. Our sport enables people to come together and to play alongside these people is motivating and inspiring.”
READ MORE: Match in Pictures: England 28-24 France
Golden Boot winner Seb Bechara was part of the England team that lost 38-34 to France five years ago in Perpignan.
But the sport now – the viral hit of this tournament – is in a very different place, staged for the first-time alongside the men’s and women’s tournaments at the most inclusive Rugby League World Cup ever.
“I was crying my ears out when that whistle went, that’s revenge for five years ago,” he said.
“We talked before the game about earning the right and we did that very well. The crowd was incredible, we’ve been fighting for this for so long. The noise was remarkable and we fed off it for the entire game.
“We need to keep this momentum going for the sport now. Hopefully other countries will be watching this and they’ll want a part of it now.”
Bechara played credit to coach Tom Coyd, who gave a rallying half-time team talk as France threatened to spoil the party for the partisan crowd.
“I told them to believe in themselves at half-time, I thought we were playing within ourselves and were too scared of making mistakes,” Coyd said.
“This sport is going to explode now, this wheelchair product is so exciting, it’s got different nuances to the running game.
“We’re going to enjoy this moment as we’ve worked so hard, these guys have put their lives on hold for this moment and they’ve got what they deserved.”
French coach Sylvain Crismanovich admitted defeat, after wins in the 2017 and 2013 tournaments, was tough to take, though France will need to wait just three years to get revenge when they host the next edition.
“It was a close game throughout, there was no point in that game when we thought we were in command,” he said.
“It was back and forth the whole way through, it was a close one. I think a number of decisions were tricky for the referee tonight. I don’t think any one decision swayed the game in any direction.
“The tournament has been fantastic for the players, the sport and the media uptake.”