James Simpson eyes Leeds Rhinos treble to end ‘very competitive’ wheelchair season

Leeds Rhinos captain and coach James Simpson hopes to end a “very competitive” Wheelchair Rugby League season with all three trophies.

The domestic campaign ends this Saturday with the Super League Grand Final as Leeds face Halifax Panthers at the National Basketball Performance Centre in Manchester, kick-off 3.30pm, live on Sky Sports.

The Rhinos won the treble last season and are one win away from replicating the feat in 2022, having already won the Challenge Cup and League Leaders’ Shield.

But it has been anything but easy for them this year – Catalans Dragons gave them a big challenge in the cup final back in June, while they needed a final-day win to secure top spot in the league table with Halifax, Wigan Warriors and London Roosters also having strong campaigns.

Simpson has enjoyed the competitiveness of the season, something which also augurs well for England ahead of the World Cup.

“It’s been a really long year, and the way the season has been structured has been done to give our top players more exposure to tough games so we’re ready for the World Cup,” said Simpson.

“It’s been a long time coming for this Grand Final and we’re really looking forward to it.

“It has been very competitive, and you need competition. One of the problems for wheelchair rugby league, and it was a bit the same in the women’s (game), was we got some blowout scores.

“We structured the league where we played each other once and then broke off into the top four teams, home and away, so each game mattered and each game was competitive.

“Then people came in to watch, and they absolute love it. It’s rugby league’s best-kept secret, and when people find it and understand it, they love it.”

Leeds had their biggest crowd yet for their semi-final against London at Leeds Beckett University, demonstrating a volume of sport that meant a lot to the players.

“We had a record crowd of 120 people,” said Simpson. “Before, every other game I’d played in for Leeds apart from finals has just been friends and family.

“But we’ve had people come along, got buses, driven, to come and watch us play, and at the end of the game when we’d won and booked our place in the final, people started singing Marching on Together in the crowd.

“As players we were nearly in tears, thinking ‘this is amazing’, that people are coming to watch us play not as wheelchair players, but as Rhinos players.”