James Simpson expects this World Cup to be “ground-breaking” for Wheelchair Rugby League.
For the first time, the wheelchair game will be part of one World Cup alongside men’s and women’s tournaments, giving it a far bigger profile than any previous event, with the effects already evident.
“The World Cup is absolutely massive for our game,” said Simpson, who is expected to be named in the ten-player England squad announced today (Monday).
“What it’s already done for our game, without even playing a fixture yet, has been huge – the money ploughed into it for clubs, the kit and equipment through the CreatedBy grants, the exposure – we wouldn’t be on BBC already if it wasn’t for the World Cup.
“People wouldn’t know individual players if it wasn’t for what the World Cup is going to do.
“Already they’ve pushed us to where we need to be, and then we’ve got somewhere even bigger and better to go next month.
“Next year, Wheelchair Rugby League is going to be known throughout the country.”
The competition begins on November 3, with England taking on Australia in a double header at the Copper Box in London.
As a venue at the 2012 Paralympics, it holds a special resonance to Leeds Rhinos’ Simpson, who lost both legs serving in Afghanistan three years earlier.
He said: “I was there in 2012 watching the wheelchair basketball. 2012 is what gave me the ambition to get into wheelchair sport.
“It showed that it’s okay to be in a wheelchair and be an athlete. It helped me a lot in my life.
“Ten years later, potentially going back there and playing, it’s full circle.”
England also face Spain and Ireland in their group but the toughest competition for the World Cup trophy, which will be fought for at Manchester Central on November 18, is likely to be France.
Pioneers of the wheelchair game, the French have long been top dogs and beat England in the past two World Cup Finals, but their defeat in a mid-season international earlier this year suggested the tide may be turning.
“We beat France, then we had the Challenge Cup final a week later where Leeds beat Catalans. Within two weeks we gave French Rugby League a bit of a bloody nose,” said Simpson.
“I think that gave a lot of motivation, not just to players but England Wheelchair Rugby League as a whole.
“It showed the French aren’t this indestructible, untouchable force. They can be beaten. It showed we are here to do business.
“The training we’ve put in means that we’re the most ready we’ve ever been. Having a home World Cup has driven us so much to be better, stronger and faster. We are in the best place we can possibly be going into this World Cup.”
At least nine of the 15 matches in the tournament will be shown on BBC2, including all matches involving home nations Scotland and Wales, giving the game unprecedented exposure.
Simpson said: “Off the back of this tournament, when the women’s players and the wheelchair players are household names and people will start coming to weekly domestic games to see these players, it’s going to be ground-breaking.”
The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.