James Simpson – the face of Wheelchair Rugby League

Last week, Leeds Rhinos announced that their England Wheelchair player James Simpson had announced his retirement after an outstanding ten-year career, although he will remain with the Yorkshire team as a coach.

James Simpson is probably the first Wheelchair Rugby League player who would be widely recognised by the general sporting public.

He has been a tremendous servant of the Wheelchair game, both on the court and off it, as he has often been recruited by broadcasters, especially the BBC, as a pundit, and not just for the Wheelchair game.

Simpson is one of those people who can easily project his enthusiasm onto his audience and it’s good to know that he will continue to be intimately involved in the game, primarily as the coach of the Rhinos’ Wheelchair team but also as a PR advocate for the sport.

Given that Wheelchair Rugby League was a sporting success story in 2022, with England winning the World Cup and the team then receiving an award as the BBC Sports Review of the Year, I suspect that Simpson’s eloquence and enthusiasm will go a long way to persuading more broadcasters to screen Wheelchair Rugby League.

During his career, he played in seven Grand Finals and helped Leeds win the wheelchair title in 2018 and 2021. He also captained Leeds to three Challenge Cup final victories.

Simpson won 31 England caps, playing in the World Cup for the first time in 2017 before being part of last year’s tournament-winning squad.

The 36-year-old former soldier, who lost both legs while serving on a tour of Afghanistan in 2009, said: “I made the decision a few years ago that I would retire from playing after ten years.

“I was in the Army for ten years and played for ten years and I just thought now would be a good time for a new challenge.”

Martin Coyd OBE, the General Manager of England Wheelchair Rugby League, said: “Over the past ten years James Simpson has been a key figure in the development of Wheelchair Rugby League and especially in the increase in our sport’s profile through RLWC2021 as an ambassador for the tournament.

“I remember his first selection for the England squad in 2014 and it has been a pleasure to see his career develop both with the national team and with Leeds Rhinos as they have become a dominant force in the domestic game.

“James has set the standards for the England Team and players a critical role in shaping who we are and what we stand for. He played a massive role in the World Cup success.

“His finest hour for the Rhinos was his magnificent leadership in the 2022 Wheelchair Challenge Cup Final when he took them to victory over a Catalans Dragons team who had not lost a game since 2017 – that showed the way for England winning the World Cup.

“Congratulations to him on all he has achieved in his inspirational response to the injuries he suffered serving his country in Afghanistan – and I am delighted he will retain a significant role in Wheelchair Rugby League as the Leeds Rhinos coach, as we prepare to build on England’s World Cup win and grow the game in the UK and around the world.”

This article comes from Martyn Sadler’s ‘Talking Rugby League’ column in this week’s issue of League Express. You can take out a subscription by going to https://www.totalrl.com/league-express/