In a new written series, we want to delve deeper into why our participants love Disability Rugby League. Over the past few years, our sides have gone from strength to strength, playing a curtain-raiser at both Old Trafford and Anfield, while we watched three of our PD participants embark on a trip of a lifetime to Australia, shown exclusively on Amazon Prime.
Please see our second Q&A with PDRL’s Ben Nicholson…
How would you explain your love for PDRL?
My love of PDRL began through my love of Rugby League in general. A sport which I have been involved in as a spectator, coach and player for pretty much my whole life. PDRL has allowed me to continue as a player, long after I thought that journey was over and I suppose the love is further amplified by what I have seen PDRL become for a variety of people from all sorts of backgrounds.
How did you get in PDRL? – What is your journey?
Getting into PDRL wasn’t any deep origin story. I saw that Leeds were starting one, originally, and after a conversation with a friend of mine, Sonny Dixon – who I coached with at the time – he made me realise that if I didn’t go and play, why would anyone else? This was a moral decision, I suppose, as I had spent a long time pretending my disability didn’t exist or affect me. A lot of thought lead me to notice that I was letting my disability dictate what I could and couldn’t do, and after a conversation with Craig Shepherd, I decided to take myself to Wakefield, starting as a player/coach at the time. As a Leeds Rhinos fan, this should have been a tough decision, but it turned out to be the best one I ever made!
As a long-standing player, you have seen the impact it has made on the players – how does it feel to see other players grow?
In such a short space of time, PDRL has made such a big difference to all those involved. We’ve seen players take part in a sport which would never have been possible. However, more importantly, we’ve had people come and get involved from all sorts of different paths, including a wide range of other disability sports. The biggest amount of change that I have seen is those of the non-disabled volunteers and spectators, who come away with a healthy respect for the players, and perhaps a little surprised at just how physical our sport is. The fact of the matter is, it isn’t that far removed from any other version of Rugby League.
Are there any memories and times you look back with fondness or pride?
It is hard to pinpoint one particular moment of pride. Obviously, Australia was a huge, life-altering opportunity for me, personally, and I got to be involved and see things I genuinely thought I was never going to see. Old Trafford was special in a different way, as we were showcasing our sport as a whole squad. Likewise, the recent PDRL origin game was a real honour for all those picked. Having said all that, I will always remember getting changed in the old changing rooms at Belle Vue for the very first time, as that was one of the first times it all became real.
The Rugby League Disability set-up has gone from strength to strength in recent years – what is the next step?
I’d start by saying that PDRL has come such a long way in such a short amount of time, especially in this hemisphere. There are already plans for international competitions, which is all great, but I would also like to see some consolidation work as games have come thick and fast this year. This has shown us that we need to be able to strengthen our existing player base, which would, for me, include being able to increase the current number of teams from six.