'Sky's the limit': Nathan Collins savouring wheelchair buzz as he targets France revenge

In rugby league, there is an age-old debate that is never likely to go away: which rivalry is the biggest?

Wigan Warriors and St Helens will point to the success of the two clubs as evidence that they share the most intense rivalry.

Fans of Hull KR and Hull FC, meanwhile, will say there is only one true derby.

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But in recent times, the wheelchair rivalry between England and France has muscled in on the conversation.

There is no love lost between the sport's two best sides, the finalists in the last three World Cups.

England were the victors in Manchester last year, a thrilling final perhaps best remembered for the antics of the French official who was subsequently handed a three-year ban after bringing the game into disrepute through "inappropriate, unprofessional and unacceptable behaviour".

The French claimed in the aftermath that non-disabled players were dominating the sport and deterring athletes with disabilities.

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On the court, France gained a modicum of revenge for their World Cup final defeat with a 43-34 win in a typically ferocious battle in front of a crowd of 2,311 at Leeds' First Direct Arena last Sunday.

England react to the defeat to France in Leeds. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)England react to the defeat to France in Leeds. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)
England react to the defeat to France in Leeds. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)

Fortunately for England, they do not have to wait long to attempt to redress the balance with the two rivals set to meet in Marseille on November 25.

Nathan Collins, who scored a try and added four goals in the most recent meeting, is counting down the days until the next bout with France.

"From the high of winning the World Cup last year to getting beat by them last weekend, it's going to put a bit more fire in our bellies to go beat them on their soil in Marseille," the Leeds Rhinos star told The Yorkshire Post.

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"We're ranked number one in the world and they're ranked number two so every time we play them it's like a derby rivalry.

France celebrate their win over England. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)France celebrate their win over England. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)
France celebrate their win over England. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)

"The first aim is to get picked for that game. If I am lucky enough to get picked, I want to beat them on their home patch. They've done it to us over here and now it's our turn to go over there and do it to them."

International rugby league's visit to Leeds proved to be a bittersweet experience for Collins.

Although he came out on the losing side, he can reflect on the occasion with pride.

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"I couldn't think of any place better to play than in my home city where I can have family and friends come and watch me,” said Collins.

Nathan Collins scores a try. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)Nathan Collins scores a try. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)
Nathan Collins scores a try. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)

"If I'm playing in a different country or somewhere down south, they might struggle to come and see me play.

"Every time I get to represent my country, it's always a special moment anyway, never mind playing in Leeds. Every time you wear that badge, you wear it with pride.

"It's always an amazing opportunity and you never know when your last one is going to be.”

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Collins is well versed in the highs and lows of sport thanks to his experiences at club level with Leeds.

The Rhinos retained the League Leaders' Shield this year but lost their grip on the Challenge Cup and suffered a second successive Grand Final defeat.

Despite those disappointments, Collins can take a step back and see the bigger picture.

Nathan Collins celebrates with the World Cup trophy last November. (Photo: Will Palmer/SWpix.com)Nathan Collins celebrates with the World Cup trophy last November. (Photo: Will Palmer/SWpix.com)
Nathan Collins celebrates with the World Cup trophy last November. (Photo: Will Palmer/SWpix.com)

"We had quite a good season," he said.

"We won the League Leaders' Shield, which was a great achievement for us, but obviously got beat by Catalans and Wigan in the finals.

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"I feel like the training session before the Challenge Cup game against Catalans didn't go how we wanted it to go. We were trying to sort stuff out last minute and I don't think that helped us.

"Going into the Wigan game, we changed that and had a good session but they had the game of their lives.

"Unfortunately, we didn't win either and I don't like not winning but it's the best outcome for the game after the World Cup year. Three different teams winning the trophies shows that teams are catching up and the game is growing even more."

Wheelchair rugby league emerged from the shadows in emphatic style last year with a World Cup for the ages.

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As the first anniversary of England's memorable win approaches, Collins can still feel the buzz generated during the home tournament.

"That month we spent together as an England team was one of the best times of my life," he said.

"I like to train in a professional environment. Even though we're not paid to play, I try to treat my life outside of work as a professional athlete. To focus on the rugby side that month was amazing.

"Then there's the stuff that's come outside of that like going into schools to do presentations and being part of rugby club award nights. It's good to see the sport is still being recognised by people."

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A few years ago, games were played in small leisure centres or even on car parks with nobody watching.

With fans now gripped by the all-action variation of rugby league, Collins believes there is no ceiling on what can be achieved.

"The sky is the limit," he said.

"If we keep playing it and growing it, it will go wherever it wants to. It'll just keep growing and growing and growing.

"It's still fairly new compared to the men's and women's games but we have the chance to put this great sport out there and grow it even more to try put it on the map and get more people up and down the country playing it."

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