Playing wheelchair rugby league has given England international Wayne Boardman a new purpose

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Wayne Boardman admitted he felt “lost” as he dealt with the trauma of being paralysed following a motorcycle accident.

He was a thriving rugby league player who had played at a semi-professional level but could no longer partake in the sport he loved so much.

Or so he thought, at least.

Yorkshireman Boardman is currently in Australia in the midst of representing England, looking to finish off a ground-breaking five-match Ashes tour with a 100 per cent winning record.

“I played able-bodied rugby before my accident,” he said.

“I came through the Wakefield Trinity academy – Nigel Wright was around back then – and played at Dewsbury Rams.

“I had my accident at 29. Basically for the first two years after that I felt lost and was finding my feet looking at what to do with life from hereon in.

“I heard about wheelchair rugby league and felt that kind of thing could be a thing.

“I went to go do that and the club at the time ran basketball one part of the year and rugby the other.

“They weren’t doing rugby league at the time so I started playing basketball and after that did the rugby league.

“It’s just gone from there really. And here I am now. It is a great honour and privilege to represent your country in Australia.”

Boardman, 45, plays for Halifax and is one of the most experienced and successful players in the sport that is growing in profile.

He helped England beat Australia Wheelaroos 84-28 in Sydney yesterday – Halifax team-mate Jack Brown scored five tries – and they face them again in their second and final Test at the University of Wollongong tomorrow.

“I found within the wheelchair there are sports you can do and being a very competitive guy myself I just started doing everything,” he added.

“The wheelchair game is so similar to the actual running game.

“Yes, it’s only five-a-side but everything else is the same – the same ball, the same rules – and the mental side of it; the vision of what’s going on, where we need to go, what angles you need to run and how you need to play the ball quickly.

“All of these aspects that I was taught playing the running game are easily translated into the wheelchair game. I found the transition really easy and thought ‘wow, this is good.’ It’s just progressed from that.”

The Wheelchair side are one of five England Performance Unit squads to have been in action in recent days and one of three – England Nines and England Ladies Nines being the others – competing Down Under.

Indeed, on a day off from their hectic schedule, they travelled to support the other sides in the inaugural Nines World Cup in Parramatta on Sunday.

Boardman, who lives in Barnsley, explained: “I was in the England set-up right from the beginning. My first tour was back in 2007 when I think the RFL first came on board but it was all fledgling then.

“Now, though, the RFL has really taken wheelchair sport on; they are so deeply ingrained into it and they’re giving us all the same support. We all feel part of the full England set-up in every way and it’s great to be out here in Australia together.”

Boardman looks back fondly at his decision to first get involved.

“I missed everything; the competitive side of rugby, the physicality and the whole team morale side of it as well,” he said.

“When you’re in a team with banter, it’s great and I don’t think there’s many other environments where that happens.

“And as it (wheelchair rugby league) is a physical sport still, that physicality soon sorts the men from the boys as it were.

“It gets really physical. It’s a lot louder and that gives an appearance of the physicality but you’re in a chair, you’re in casting and you have your little safety things to make sure.

“But there’s no half measures. Especially when you get to an international level.”

England inflicted a first ever home defeat on reigning world champions France in Apt earlier this year and also retained the Home Nations in Wales last month so they headed off to Australia in confident mood.

They started their tour with a convincing win over North Queensland in Townsville and followed up by beating Queensland 104-12 in Brisbane before yesterday’s success.

Boardman added: “The guys were really composed.

“We were expecting a lot more from them in the first 10 minutes and I don’t think they didn’t come out strong, it’s just that we neutralised a lot of their attacks so I was really happy the guys.

“They were better than when we played them in the last World Cup in 2017 but I think we’ve grown as a better team since then and we’re outgrowing them.

“I think they are struggling to keep up with us as we’re moving forward at a really quick pace.

“I missed a couple of conversions which I’m a little disappointed with. I do pride myself on my kicking and it’s not been the best lately so it is something that I’m having to work on.

“My open play and read and communication and everything within the game I think was on point today. The lads were listening to me and putting into play what I wanted to do.

“But it was an outstanding performance from the lads more than anything and I’m very proud of them. There was other raw skills and everything there before but now the team is actually coming together and working as one.

“That camaraderie has lifted us to another level and I think it is something that was missing over the last couple of years.”

Boardman hopes to help the squad complete ‘five from five’ which was the goal when they initially flew out to Australia.

“All being well we’ll do that,” he said, with their final game being against New South Wales.

“It is a busy five days with three games in five days and travelling as well. I’m sure we’re going to have some sore shoulders come Friday but yes all being well.

“We know Australia will look to hit back on Wednesday.

“They will go back and analyse the video and try to counteract what we’re doing but we’re working on our own game every day here whether in meetings, video or analysis.”