Australia wheelchair rugby head coach Brad Dubberley is leaving nothing to chance after announcing a formidable Australian Steelers squad for August’s Asia-Oceania Wheelchair Rugby Championships in Auckland, New Zealand.
Doubling as a qualifier for the 2018 International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF) World Championships in Sydney, the Steelers need not worry after earning automatic passage thanks to their gold medal from the Rio 2016 Paralympics. They would also have qualified as the host nation.
But that has not stopped Dubberley from selecting a 12-man squad boasting nine members of the all-conquering Rio 2016 team and just one debutant. He has resisted the urge to blood more new players, instead choosing to fire up his big guns.
“For us, it’s about continually working on the way we work together. This tournament will give us a great opportunity to work on line-ups, our combinations and to find new ways to lift our own high standards,” Dubberley said.
“With our World number one ranking on the line, we are not wanting to lose this, particularly leading into a home World Championships in 2018. We won’t be too focused on the results, it will be all about the process and making sure everything we do is at the level we expect. Results will take care of themselves if we play our game.
“It’s a really experienced, strong team, but we haven’t played a lot together since Rio. We have had some injuries and players who have had a break, but now it is time to really concentrate on the build-up to the World Championships. We will still be developing some newer athletes, but we will take another course in doing this.”
Skippered by four-time Paralympian Ryley Batt, the Steelers will face world number three Japan as well as New Zealand (ranked ninth) and South Korea (23rd) – with the top team (apart from Australia) earning a position in the World Championship draw.
Anthony Gray, 32, is set to make his international debut. Batt, Cameron Carr, Jason Lees and Andrew Harrison form the experienced core, while Chris Bond, Matt Lewis, Jayden Warn, Ben Fawcett and Andrew Edmondson were the others who tested Rio glory.
“Anthony deserves his chance and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can contribute,” Dubberley said. “Australia has had the luxury of two world-class 0.5 players in Ryan Scott and Naz Erdem for over a decade and now it’s time for emerging players to push their claim.
“We’ve seen Benny Fawcett and Mick Ozanne come onto the scene and push Naz and Ryan and each other in the past couple of years, and now Anthony has a chance to learn from them all and do his best to make a position in this team his own for as long as he can. His presence will push Benny and Mick too, which is another positive.”
The 2017 IWRF Asia Oceania Wheelchair Rugby Championships will be held in Auckland, New Zealand from 27-31 August.
The Australian Steelers, selected by the Australian Paralympic Committee, are:
Ryley Batt 3.5
Chris Bond 3.5
Matt Lewis 3.5
Jayden Warn 3
Cameron Carr 2
Andrew Edmondson 2
Andrew Harrison 2
Jake Howe 1
Jason Lees 1
Ben Fawcett 0.5
Anthony Gray 0.5
Michael Ozanne 0.5