Sky Sports pundit Jon Wilkin believes Wheelchair Rugby League must be taken out of leisure centres and moved back to the kind of arenas seen in the World Cup to help the sport progress; Rob Hawkins: “It can go to as high as it wants to go, it’s about how far people want to take it”
Last Updated: 22/03/23 5:20pm
Super League champion Rob Hawkins believes the sky is the limit for Wheelchair Rugby League as the sport continues to thrive in the wake of England’s World Cup success.
Hawkins’ Halifax Panthers began their title defence with a defeat to Wigan in the opening round, underlining the league’s growing level of competition as the depth of talent and involvement increases.
Having seen the pageantry that accompanied the Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup, he is hopeful of an eventual return to arenas and is encouraging players and coaches around the league to continue championing the sport.
“With the way the game is growing, we’ve got more teams coming in but then to see Super League teams that want to fight to be in contention to be in that Grand Final and a Super League champion, it makes it a lot tougher to stay on top form and be the best team,” Hawkins told Sky Sports.
“If you look to a few years ago it was mainly Halifax and Leeds, but now you’ve got London and even Wigan and Hull coming in and trying to fight for that title of best club in the country.
“With how far it can go, it can go to a more professional side and we could build it to the point where we possibly have more arenas.
“After the World Cup we had so many people watching the whole tournament, the amount of people that have seen this have seen it for the first time and thought ‘I can play this’. It can go to as high as it wants to go, it’s about how far people want to take it.
“We’ve got a number of clubs growing, we’ve got teams like Edinburgh that have started their club as well as Hull KR, you’ve got teams that have been around for a couple of years that have just got their first win like Sheffield.”
Former St Helens back-row forward and Sky Sports rugby league pundit Jon Wilkin has also urged the return to arena settings as a means of furthering the game.
“It’s become a really visible and valuable part of the sport, for a number of reasons,” he said. “Number one is it shows the accessibility of the sport, wheelchair is the most inclusive version of any sport in the world, anybody can play the sport and that’s the beauty of the sport.
“I’ve tried it, it’s ferocious, it’s intense, it’s incredibly technical and difficult.
“The one thing on the back of the World Cup which was a huge success that saddens me slightly is watching the footage and it returning to a leisure centre.
“We wrapped a whole load of presentation around it in the World Cup, the arenas looked fantastic. If we’re going to take and make this a serious part of the game let’s ensure we get the right venues for this sport to be played.”
Such was the vast interest generated by this year’s World Cup that the Princess of Wales hosted Hawkins and the rest of his victorious England team in a reception at Hampton Court Palace having watched the final with her children.
“It’s very weird to think we reached the level where we had royalty watching our sport,” said Hawkins. “We got to meet the Princess of Wales and just to speak to her and hear how her family were watching it shows that we’re getting watched from everywhere really.
“It would be very interesting to see if one of the Royals would get in a chair and play, it would be a question of what club they go to. London might be the best bet to start with!”
Source : Sky Sports