Leeds Rhinos' Tom Halliwell reveals how a collision with Mikolaj Oledzki led to him captaining England's wheelchair rugby league side
When Leeds Rhinos junior Tom Halliwell suffered a badly broken leg in a game for Oulton Raiders his hopes of reaching the top in rugby league seemed to have been shattered.
But rather than proving the end of the line, the setback was in fact a diversion on to a new track which has led to him captaining his country.
Halliwell will skipper England’s wheelchair side in the first game of a two-Test series against France in Gillingham, Kent, today (6.30pm).
He has already been part of an historic treble-winning season with Rhinos this year, scoring five tries in their Challenge Cup final triumph and helping them to top spot in Super League and a Grand Final victory.
He captained England for the first time against Wales in June and is on course to lead their World Cup bid in a year’s time.
Halliwell started playing the running version of the sport with his local team, Kippax Welfare, aged four.
He later joined Oulton Raiders where he was a teammate of current Rhinos player Jack Walker and played opposite Leeds and England star Mikolaj Oledzki.
But fate intervened in a game for Oulton against Hunslet Warriors, as Halliwell, who was also in Rhinos’ scholarship, recalled.
He said: “I remember being at full-back and a ball went up in the air, I caught it and must have slipped and I had Mikolaj land on my foot.
“I broke my foot and got carried off by the physio. All the lads were laughing about that.
“To be honest, I was growing out of love with the running game, I thought this is time for me to maybe move on or look for something new because it would be even harder to find a career playing the running game.
“Luckily, I had the wheelchair, which gave me back my love for the sport and gave me a pathway back into rugby league.”
Halliwell made his England wheelchair debut in 2015, when he was 16 and featured in the World Cup two years later.
“I only started because I enjoyed the game,” he said.
“I didn’t realise how big and serious this would get.
“The sport back then was miniature compared to what it is now and the platform we have, playing on the BBC and Sky Sports.
“It is massive and I can’t wait for more of these things and hopefully to captain my country more, because it is a huge honour and privilege.”
Rhinos teammates James Simpson and Nathan Collins are also in the squad for this evening’s game and the rematch at the same venue on Saturday.
“It has been just reward for all the hard work we’ve put in,” Halliwell said of Rhinos’ all-conquering campaign.
“That’s the secret behind it, the hard work that has gone on behind the scenes is coming to fruition.”
Of Leeds’ success, he added: “We have earned that through all the years of hard work.
“We were getting beaten 100-and-odd points to nil when I first started.
“We had to earn our stripes before we could start being up there with the best teams.”
Both Tests will be broadcast on the BBC Sport website and iPlayer.
France are the world champions and Halliwell reckons today’s clash will be a “massive test for me as well as the team”.
He said: “This is my first proper test, against the world number one.
“It doesn’t get much harder than that, but I am looking forward to it and hopefully we can come away with a win.”
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