France gained revenge for their defeat in last year’s Wheelchair World Cup Final to deny England a clean sweep as the 2023 Rugby League season ended with an international triple header in Leeds.
After almost 12 months stewing over the disappointment of their dramatic 28-24 defeat by England at Manchester Central, the founders of Wheelchair Rugby League returned to the other side of the Pennines and made their point to a noisy crowd of 2,311 at the first direct Arena, with Jeremy Bourson named player of the match for scoring three of their tries in a 43-34 win.
France were presented with the Fassolette-Kielty Trophy, which is awarded to the winners of every France-England fixture in tribute to Robert Fassolette and Malcolm Kielty MBE, the two key figures in establishing Wheelchair Rugby League on either side of the Channel.
But England will have the chance to regain the Trophy in three weeks, as the teams meet again at the Palais des Sports in Marseille on November 25.
Simon Johnson, the Chair of the Rugby Football League and a Board member of International Rugby League, said:
“It has been another landmark moment for Wheelchair Rugby League, to crown an excellent weekend of international Rugby League in Leeds.
“The sport had a challenge following the World Cup last autumn, to ensure the momentum of staging those three tournaments concurrently was not lost.
“We were therefore delighted to be able to host five England internationals, with a three-Test Men’s series against Tonga, the third of which was staged at Headingley as one of three internationals in the space of 24 hours in Leeds.
“With the support of Leeds City Council, we have staged two memorable occasions, with a crowd of more than 15,000 at Headingley on Saturday generating a rousing atmosphere for convincing wins for England Women against Wales, and for the Men against Tonga to secure a 3-0 series win – in each case a fitting way for two outstanding England players, Vicky Molyneux and Elliott Whitehead, to make their international farewells.
“France were worthy winners of the Wheelchair match which was another compelling spectacle and a wonderful occasion, following on from that unforgettable World Cup Final in Manchester.
“Earlier in the day, I attended a Wheelchair Rugby League Development Festival hosted by Leeds Rhinos, attended by more than 80 players from several clubs around Yorkshire, and providing tangible evidence of the impact made by last year’s World Cup, with an increase of 71% in participation through 2023, and a number of new clubs formed from Cardiff to York, and Edinburgh to Hull KR.
“With the BBC again providing outstanding coverage of all three England internationals this weekend, the profile of Wheelchair Rugby League continues to grow.”
England 34 France 43
England tries Rob Hawkins, Joe Coyd, Lewis King 2, Nathan Collins, Tom Halliwell; goals Coyd, Collins 4.
France tries Jeremy Bourson 3, Damien Dore, Lionel Alazard, Yann Verdi; goals Alazard 8, Verdi; drop goal Florien Guttadoro.
Player of the match: Jeremy Bourson
England team: Tom Halliwell (C); Rob Hawkins; Joe Coyd; Seb Bechara; Lewis King; Nathan Colins; Jack Brown; Josh Butler
France team: Lionel Alazard; Jeremy Bourson; Adrien Zittel; Damien Doré; Florian Guttadoro (C); Arno Vargas; Julien Penella; Yann Verdi