Paralympics – Aussie Wheelchair Rugby Team Ready to go

Not much startles the Australian wheelchair rugby team – that helps when playing a sport affectionately known as “Murderball”.

But the side dubbed the Steelers were left feeling very anxious indeed when Qantas grounded their fleet, threatening to turn their Paralympic dream into a nightmare.

Much to their relief, their flight to Seoul on Wednesday is back on track after the labour dispute.

Now the world No.2 Australian men’s team have their sights set on renewing one of the great wheelchair rugby rivalries in London.
And it’s not with New Zealand.

Australia must clinch a top-two spot in the four-team Asia Oceania Regional Championships, starting in Seoul on Saturday, to earn a London nod.

Overcoming New Zealand – known as the Wheel Blacks – in South Korea weighs heavily on Australia’s mind.

But the Kiwis – surprisingly ranked as low as ninth in the world – are not the Aussies’ main focus.

Revenge is very much on the Steelers’ mind at London after succumbing to their nemesis the United States at both the Beijing Paralympics gold medal match and the 2010 world titles decider.

But Australian coach Brad Dubberley was not taking anything for granted, ahead of the all-important four-day qualifying tournament, despite describing his team as the strongest Australia had assembled.

“This is the most important tournament for us to get to London and we won’t get any second chances,” he said.
“We’ve worked hard over the last six months preparing for this.

“We’ve tried to simulate the conditions we’re likely to experience in Korea. We’ve played in tournaments where every single one of our guys has had significant court time and we are more prepared than we ever have been.

“This is the strongest wheelchair rugby team this country has ever seen.

“The competition will be tough but we definitely have what it takes to succeed.”

Australia still face a tough challenge just to get to London, taking on world No.3 Japan, hosts South Korea and perennial rival New Zealand in Seoul.

But Australia, no doubt, have some unfinished business with the Americans after succumbing 57-45 in the 2010 world titles final – as well as their 53-44 loss at the Beijing Paralympics.

Indeed, the US team – made famous in the critically-acclaimed 2005 film “Murderball” – are the benchmark after winning their third gold medal in China.

Once again, Australia will be bolstered in Seoul by Ryley Batt who, at just 19, scored an unbelievable 23 goals for Australia in the Beijing gold medal playoff – more than half his team’s points.

Meanwhile, the Australian women’s rugby team, as well as their basketball teams the Rollers and the Gliders, also head to South Korea this week for their Paralympic qualifying tournaments.

All need to finish in the top two to secure their place at the Games.

The Rollers are the team to beat after claiming Beijing Paralympic gold and the 2010 world title, while the Gliders are looking to better the bronze medal they won in 2008.

The wheelchair basketball Paralympic qualifiers take place from November 4-10.

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