England Wheelchair head coach Tom Coyd MBE has named the team for Sunday’s international against France at the first direct Arena in Leeds – the first of two internationals against France in November.
The matchday squad, now comprising only eight names following a laws review of Wheelchair Rugby League since last autumn’s World Cup, contains seven key figures from England’s triumphant World Cup campaign, with one new face in Josh Butler of Leeds Rhinos.
Butler, the younger cousin of the England captain Tom Halliwell OBE, is rewarded for an outstanding season for the Rhinos in the Betfred Wheelchair Super League which earned him the Young Player of the Year award and also a place on the shortlist for the inaugural Wheels of Steel as Player of the Year.
Lewis King, who won that award, is one of two London Roosters in the squad alongside Joe Coyd.
Butler and Halliwell are joined by Nathan Collins as three Leeds Rhinos relishing the opportunity to represent their country in their home city for the first time.
The squad is completed by Rob Hawkins of Halifax Panthers and two players who are based abroad but also have strong links to Halifax: Sebastien Bechara of Catalans Dragons, who has also guested for the Panthers in recent seasons; and Jack Brown, who was born and bred in Halifax and returns home this week for the first time since the World Cup having emigrated to North Queensland in Australia three years ago.
Wayne Boardman, another Halifax stalwart who holds England’s heritage number 1 having played in the first Wheelchair Rugby League international in 2008, is named as the ninth player, available to come into the matchday squad in case of late withdrawals.
Tom Coyd said:
“It was tough narrowing down our 16-player performance squad to 12 ahead of our training camp at St George’s Park last weekend, and it’s been even tougher to finalise team selection, especially following the reduction of the matchday squad to eight players.
“Given that, it’s a measure of the quality of Josh Butler’s performances this season, and his contribution to all our camps this year up to and including St George’s Park, that he has earned a place in our team.
“I know Josh, Tom Halliwell and Nathan Collins are especially excited to be playing at the first direct Arena in Leeds, and looking forward to a lot of Rhinos support.
“We’re expecting a huge test from France, both in this game and then when we head to Marseille later in November. It’s exciting for all of us to be getting back into action for the first time since the World Cup, and we’re looking forward to a historic occasion.”
France have also named their team, which also reflects continuity from last year’s World Cup, and contains three of Sebastien Bechara’s Catalans Dragons team-mates.
The teams will meet again at the Palais des Sports in Marseille on Saturday November 25.
England: Tom Halliwell (Leeds Rhinos, captain), Sebastien Bechara (Catalans Dragons), Jack Brown (North Queensland Cowboys), Josh Butler (Leeds Rhinos), Nathan Collins (Leeds Rhinos), Joe Coyd (London Roosters), Rob Hawkins (Halifax Panthers), Lewis King (London Roosters). Ninth player – Wayne Boardman (Halifax Panthers).
France: Lionel Alazard (Montauban), Jeremy Bourson (Catalans Dragons), Damien Dore (Catalans Dragons), Florian Guttadoro (Avignon), Julien Penella (Aingirak Euskadi XIII), Arno Vargas (Catalans Dragons), Yann Verdi (Avignon), Adrien Zittel (Avignon). Ninth player: Guillaume Mautz (Avignon).
England play France in a Wheelchair Rugby League International at the first direct Arena in Leeds on Sunday (November 5), kicking off at 315pm. Tickets are still available, for £10 for adults, £7.50 concessions and £5 under-16s Wheelchair International (rugby-league.com)