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2023 Wheelchair Rugby National Championships Recap

The 2023 Wheelchair Rugby National Championships took place from June 2nd to 4th at the Gold Coast Sports and Leisure Centre in Carrara, on the Gold Coast.

Photo Credit: Stephen Tremain [Image ID: NSW's Riley Batt and VIC's player Stu Robinson have their arms up competing for the ball. There is an umpire in black on the right and two more NSW players left and right of the ball contest.

The three-day competition, starting from Friday's Division 1 & 2 pool match-ups and ending with Sunday's gold medal matches, showcased some of the best Wheelchair Rugby that Australia and New Zealand had to offer.

In a massive boost for the event the Nationals competition was televised live on Kayo and Foxsports, reaching households throughout Australia, as well as new international audiences.

Representing Victoria in the National Championships was the Protect Victoria Thunder. The Thunder, coached by DSR's own Andrew 'Harro' Harrison, had high hopes about their chances and aimed to begin their first matches on Friday with solid performances against the highly touted Queensland Cyclones and Brand Makers New Zealand.

In the first match against the Cyclones, both teams had moments of brilliance resulting in a tight affair. At halftime, Cyclones had a slight lead of 29-28, but the Thunder gained momentum as Stu Robinson scored two tries in the last two minutes, securing a 55-50 win.

The second Friday game against New Zealand was another challenging match. Thunder led 23-22 at halftime. The last quarter proved to be the decider, with Shae Graham, Jayden Warn and Stu Robinson coming through with clutch performances, helping Victoria to win the game 46-43 and ending Friday going 2 for 2 and resulted in the Thunder qualifying for the A Grade semi finals.

With one match remaining prior to their Semi-Final match the Thunder squared off against reigning champions, the NSW Gladiators. The Thunder continued their strong form by dispatching of the Gladiators in a close final pool match which meant they won all three of their matches so far in the tournament.

In the semi-final game against the Queensland Cyclones, Thunder continued their dominance on the Gold Coast by scoring the highest in the competition with 66 points, beating the Cyclones' 57 points. Stu Robinson had a massive game, while Jayden Warn, Beau Vernon, and Ben Fawcett performed outstandingly.

The gold medal match saw the Thunder square off for the second time against Ryley Batt and the NSW Gladiators who were hoping to secure their third consecutive title. Both teams played exceptionally well, with score even at 27-27 going into halftime.

The third quarter saw the Thunder jump out of the blocks and take a slight lead of 40-37 going into the final change. Going into the fourth quarter the game remained close with NSW making inroads on the Thunder lead and edging ahead going into the final minute. As they were all tournament the Thunder dug deep in the final seconds and scored a try to tie the scores with six seconds remaining to send the match into overtime.

With the game on the line in the extra period, the Gladiators big game experience showed as they were able to sneak ahead of the Thunder and hold them off to win their third straight title with a final score of 56-55.

Congratulations to Jayden Warn for being named the Division 1 MVP in the tournament, James McQuillan who was awarded Division 1 Low Pointer and Andrew Harrison for being recognised as the best Division 1 Coach. The Victorian team put in a lot of hard work and dedication, which showed in their outstanding performances throughout the tournament.

Photo Credit: Stephen Tremain [Image ID: (Left to Right) James McQuillan, Justin Goh, Jayden Warn, Andrew Harrison, Ben Fawcett, Beau Vernon, Stuart Robinson are all smiling and showing off their medals they won.]

Thank you again to Protect, ETU, Rugby Vic and the Victorian Government for their generous support of wheelchair rugby in Victoria.


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