The England Wheelchair squad and support staff gathered for their most significant training session for 18 months at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield this weekend.
The timing, and the venue, could not have fitted better.
All 18 players in the Performance Squad are battling for places in the Mid-Season International against Wales on June 26, also to be staged at the EIS – where England are determined to return, for the Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup Semi Finals on Sunday November 21.
And the timing? As Head Coach Tom Coyd reminded the squad, this weekend marks 200 days until England open the Wheelchair competition, with a mouthwatering clash against Australia at the Copper Box Arena in London’s Olympic Park on Thursday November 11
For Martin Coyd OBE, the General Manager of England Wheelchair Rugby League, 2021 promises to be a year of huge significance for the wheelchair game – and that includes a burgeoning domestic competition.
“Like everyone else, we’ve been massively affected by the pandemic over the last 13 months,” he said.
“We’d been planning a home series against Australia last autumn, running alongside the return of the Ashes which Shaun Wane and his team were looking forward to so much.
“Instead our whole 2020 season was cancelled – and the impact of Covid-19 continues to affect us, even with this weekend’s training camp which would normally have spread over Saturday and Sunday with an overnight stay.
“But we’re a can-do group, and just as Tom and the players and coaches have found ways to stay involved and active on an on-line basis, we found a way to squeeze as much as possible into a single day’s activity – and then to follow up on-line the following morning.”
Several of the England squad were involved last week in an introductory session for Wakefield Trinity, one of seven new teams who will be involved in the 2021 Wheelchair Rugby League season – meaning there will now be three regional Conferences in the Championship competition below the Super League.
Wakefield will join Newcastle Thunder in the Championship North, competing against Bradford Bulls, Dundee Dragons, Mersey Storm and Rochdale Hornets.
Bedford Tigers and Woodland Warriors are entering the Championship South, with the Warriors based in the Kent stronghold for Wheelchair RL also represented by Medway Dragons, two teams from Gravesend, and the second squad from the Argonauts Skeleton Army, The Demi-Gods.
And there are two new teams in South Wales – Torfaen Tigers and West Wales Raiders, who join a West section which also includes Hereford Harriers, North Wales Crusaders Celts and Warrington Wolves.
The Super League also consists of six teams – the senior teams from Argonauts and North Wales, plus the 2019 Grand Final winners Halifax Panthers, the 2019 Challenge Cup winners Leeds Rhinos, newcomers Hull FC and Leyland Warriors representing Lancashire.
All competitions will begin on the weekend of May 29, after a Fours competition on May 22, and on June 5 the Betfred Wheelchair Challenge Cup will kick off with an invitational Festival.
Other key dates will be confirmed in the coming weeks – but for the England squad, the focus will be on Wales in June and then that World Cup opener against Australia, 200 days from now.
Wheelchair Rugby League 2021
Super League: Argonauts Skeleton Army, Halifax Panthers, Hull FC, Leeds Rhinos, Leyland Warriors, North Wales Crusaders.
Championship North: Bradford Bulls, Dundee Dragons, Mersey Storm, Newcastle Thunder, Rochdale Hornets, Wakefield Trinity.
Championship West: Celts, Hereford Harriers, North Wales Crusaders A, Torfaen Tigers, Warrington Wolves, West Wales Raiders.
Championship South: Argonauts Skeleton Army Demi-Gods, Bedford Tigers, Gravesend, Gravesend Dynamite, Medway Dragons, Woodland Warriors.