Leeds Rhinos' Tom Hallliwell expecting 'full-on' battle in England v France wheelchair rugby league Test
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The showdown at First Direct Arena is the sport’s first Test match staged in the city and marks England’s return to action following their World Cup final win over this weekend’s opponents France 12 months ago.
Leeds Rhinos star Tom Halliwell captained the side that evening, was named player of the match and scored the winning try. He will lead England again on Sunday and - with no love lost between the world’s two best sides - is preparing for another no holds barred encounter.
“It’s going to be full-on and an excellent game to watch.” Halliwell predicted. “It’s going to be fast and ferocious and the skill on show is amazing. France are a great side with great staff behind them and a different philosophy and style of play to us. Their style works for them, ours works for us and it’s all a matter of going out there and putting it on show.”
While wheelchair rugby league has been promoted in England for its inclusiveness, the French believe that has gone too far with non-disabled players, they claim, dominating the game and deterring athletes with disabilities.
Their comments after the World Cup final and in a subsequent documentary stoked the flames, but Halliwell insisted England won’t get caught up in a grudge match. He pledged: “We just do what we do. We focus on us and we allow them to do what they want to do. We can have our opinions and they can have theirs. We’ll just focus on what we do best, which is going out there and playing wheelchair rugby league.”
Tickets are still on sale, but a crowd of more than 2,000 is guaranteed and Halliwell admitted captaining England in front of a gate of that size, at an arena venue in his home city, is something he never believed would happen. He said: “I am a proud Leeds lad and to be able to represent and captain my country in my home city is something very special.
"It doesn’t feel real, it is going to be special having all my friends and family there, especially having my cousin Josh [Butler, another Rhinos player] on the team as well. No doubt when the national anthem comes on you’ll see tears streaming from my eyes. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Live coverage on BBC 2 is another chance to showcase the sport to a new audience. Halliwell added: “We used to play in car parks so this shows how far we have come. It’s something to be proud of, but I don’t think we need to stop here, we have to keep on going and striving for greatness. We will continue growing the sport to a whole new level, this is just the start for us.”
Halliwell, who was made an OBE following the World Cup triumph, is one of three Leeds men in this weekend’s squad, alongside Butler and Nathan Collins.
England: Tom Halliwell (Leeds Rhinos), Sebastien Bechara (Catalans Dragons), Jack Brown (North Queensland Cowboys), Josh Butler (Leeds), Nathan Collins (Leeds), Joe Coyd (London Roosters), Rob Hawkins (Halifax Panthers), Lewis King (London). Ninth player: Wayne Boardman (Halifax Panthers).
France: Lionel Alazard (Montauban), Jeremy Bourson (Catalans Dragons), Damien Dore (Catalans), Florian Guttadoro (Avignon), Julien Penella (Aingirak Euskadi XIII), Arno Vargas (Catalans), Yann Verdi (Avignon), Adrien Zittel (Avignon). Ninth player: Guillaume Mautz (Avignon).
Referee: David Butler. Kick-off: Sunday, 3.15pm at First Direct Arena, Leeds.