Tomorrow night at the Shellharbour City Stadium, a new form of AFL played with wheelchairs will be open for the public to try.
Over the coming month, there will be friendly games across NSW and the ACT to get more players involved and training every week for their regional teams in the lead-up to the annual Toyota Wheelchair AFL National Championships in November.
According to ACT & Regional NSW AFL Participation & Programs manager Simon Smyth, while many of the same strategies apply across the traditional and wheelchair versions, “it is by no means an easy sport”.
“The beauty of this sport is its ability to bring people of all ages, abilities or gender together into one game,” he said.
“Teams are divided into classifications of skill, but the competition is uniquely balanced between people already in a wheelchair and those who are not.”
The game has five a side, clashing the rims of their wheels on a rectangular indoor court that has been divided into thirds. At either end are the usual goalposts with the same points applied: six in the middle (goal) and one for either side (behind).
However, instead of kicking the ball, you handball, and in place of a handball, you underarm throw.
Unsurprisingly, the sport had its beginnings in Victoria, where AFL is a quasi-religious passion for many in the state. Since its genesis a few years ago, its popularity has spread to all corners of the country.
In a partnership between Wheelchair Australia and AFL NSW/ACT, the organisations have already hosted one competition in Albury (3 July). And their next two events will be tomorrow night’s showdown in the Illawarra (7 July, 6:30 – 8 pm), followed by a game at the Fadden Dome in Canberra (19 July, 7:30 – 9 pm).
At these games, volunteer players will be provided with all the equipment they require, including wheelchairs. This will also provide a chance for them to play in their region’s team at the September Club Challenge, where scouts will keep an eye out for top talent to be selected for the NSW/ACT Rolling Rams to give them their best chance of winning the national championship.
Those interested can sign up to Wheelchair Sports NSW/ACT with free membership, which also provides insurance for those who play, at no cost.
Simon says they’re still accepting players for the Illawarra game tomorrow.
”See you at the stadium!”