The first wheelchair rugby league Internationals to be staged in the USA take place this week, on Friday 2 and Saturday 3 February, when the hosts take on Wales in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Both games take place at the John T Rhodes Sports Centre and are part of ‘The Beers Of America Adaptive Sports Festival’, with Friday’s game kicking off at 7pm local time and Saturday’s 3pm.
In their only previous encounter, in the group stages of the last World Cup, Wales were victors 50-32 although they were made to work for their victory having come from behind as USA led for the opening half an hour.
For USA, Jesse Lind takes over the captaincy following the retirement of Jeff Townsend and Micah Stewart is handed the vice captaincy. Mack Johnson, selected in the 2021 World Cup “Team Of The Tournament” will be looking to make a similar impact, while Chayse Wolf is set to debut having recently been invited to trials for the USA Wheelchair Basketball side. Other newcomers are Lisa Maddox, Justin Hall, David Roemhildt and Devin Perry.
The USA team has a strong association to its Armed Forces, with seven of the side – Andy Kingsley, Lind, Freddie Smith, Maddox, Hall, Gabi Cha and Jabrier Lee – all being veterans.
USA Wheelchair head coach, Geoff Mason, commented: “We are very much looking forward to the international series against a very strong Welsh team that is ranked third in the world. Our pool game in the 2021 World Cup was a hard-fought affair. Wheelchair Rugby League is in its infancy here, but we believe that this series will greatly increase its profile and development. Our future going forward is to move towards a domestic competition after this series.”
Mason added: “My squad contains a mixture of World Cup players who have shown significant improvement and some newcomers, and we are ready for the series. Besides the games, we have worked with Wales to use their tour as a way to increase coaching and referee development here. There will be clinics and sessions throughout the week to impart skills and certifications to our local coaches and officials. We shared a hotel with the Welsh at the World Cup and developed a strong friendship and camaraderie with them and very much look forward to catching up with them again as we all grow towards the next World Cup.”
Wales have named a strong line up. Harry Jones, WRL’s most capped international will be aiming to add to his tally of 43 caps and Phillip Davies makes his return after a five-year break from international duties.
Andrew Higgins is currently Wales’s highest points scorer in the wheelchair game with 449 and Martin Lane was a founder member in the Wales squad when they debuted in 2012. Gary Preece will co-captain the side with Leeds Rhinos’ Jodie Boyd-Ward.
“This really is going to be a special tour for Wales Rugby League,” said their head coach, Alan Caron. “To be playing in the first Wheelchair international matches outside of Europe and Australia is going to be historic. I’ve picked a strong squad but the tour isn’t just about winning matches, we’re here to help develop the game in America.”
The games will be streamed live via: https://www.twitch.tv/usawhrl
Jesse Lind (Ft Jackson Blackhawks), Micah Stewart (Raleigh Storm), Gabi Cha (Houston Hellraisers), Mack Johnson (Charlotte Lions), Chayse Wolf, Devin Perry (Columbia Kangaroos), Bill Johnstone, David Roemhildt (Savannah Eels), Andy Kingsley (Myrtle Beach Marlins), Tony LeBoutillier (Greenville Raiders), Jabrier Lee (Ft Bragg Raptors), Freddie Smith (Wilmington Wolves), Justin Hall, Lisa Maddox (Augusta Bulldogs).
Andrew Higgins, Gary Preece, Phillip Davies (Hereford Harriers), Jodie Boyd-Ward (Leeds Rhinos), Scott Trigg-Turner (London Roosters), Harry Jones, Mason Baker, Stephen Halsey (North Wales Crusaders), Alex Powell (Torfaen Tigers), Martin Lane (Wigan Warriors/Torfaen Tigers).