By Oli Dickson Jefford
There are few greater achievements in sport than leading your country to glory at a home World Cup.
And anything other than victory would be a disappointment for England Wheelchair Rugby League captain Tom Halliwell, though he is acutely aware there is something bigger at play.
This is the largest Wheelchair World Cup to date, with eight teams vying for the title and with the event being held simultaneously with the men’s and women’s competitions.
A passionate rugby league fan his whole life, Halliwell reached out to the Leeds Rhinos wheelchair set up after breaking his leg and loved playing so much he never returned to what he describes as ‘the running game.’
With the tournament now here, it is the opportunity to continue growing and building something special that he relishes the most.
He said: “I think our biggest goal as a team this year is to create a legacy. Obviously we want to win the World Cup, but also to create a legacy after this World Cup and get more disabled and able-bodied players involved in the sport.
“We genuinely feel the next generation is going to be the one that takes the sport forward further and further. We just want to build a platform where they can come in and take the sport to the next level.
“The game is bigger than us and the game has given a lot to us players. We just want to give back to the game and I feel that this is the way we can do it best, creating a legacy and a platform for disabled people to be able to get involved in sport, even able-bodied people to get involved in the sport. That’s our biggest thing this year.”
England’s campaign begins against Australia - a sporting rivalry that needs no introduction - at the Copper Box Arena, with a sell-out crowd expected.
Though Halliwell insists that he and the rest of the squad have not looked any further than that, large crowds are also expected for their next group matches against Ireland and Spain.
With the 12-month delay, it’s been a long wait for the tournament to get going, though that has only made Halliwell and England more prepared for what they know is a truly special opportunity.
He added: “I would never have thought it would be at this level. I started for pure enjoyment, I even quit playing the running game to play this sport.
♿ Just one more sleep until the RLWC2021 wheelchair tournament kicks off!
Last night captains, coaches, media and RLWC2021 stakeholders joined together to officially launch the tournament ahead of the first game tomorrow.#RLWC2021 | @ESgloballaw pic.twitter.com/gHuXyigQHg
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) November 2, 2022
“It’s just amazing, I never thought it would get to this level, especially so quickly. Ever since the World Cup’s got involved, it’s catapulted the sport into a whole different light. Us players are loving it, but we also realise there’s a job to be done.
“With the year off, I think it’s made us better people and better players. If I’m honest, I don’t think we were the best versions of ourselves last year. Now we’ve had a year to grow and a year to learn, I think we’re in the best position to be the best people and players. I think that’s the big thing that’s going to take us forward in this competition.
“I don’t think words can describe how excited I am and how the whole team are really. To be at a World Cup at this level, and to be with the men’s and the women’s, seeing how well they’re doing, I think it’s just amazing that we’re on that platform.
“I remember playing even just a few years ago to where we are now, you can’t describe it. It’s just amazing. I genuinely think this tournament is life-changing for us players, and we just can’t wait to get going.”
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets