Wheel Blacks have plenty to motivate them at Tokyo Paralympics

9:45 am on 25 August 2021

The New Zealand Wheelchair rugby team makes its first appearance at the Paralympics since Beijing in 2008 with the aim of returning to the golden days.

Cody Everson and Wheel Blacks vs Australia. 2019 World Championships. Tokyo.

Wheel Blacks vs Australia 2019 Photo: Joe Porter RNZ

New Zealand won the gold medal in Athens in 2004, but failed to qualify for the last two Games.

A relatively young and inexperienced New Zealand team will lineup in Tokyo, lead by captain Cody Everson.

Everson admits having to prepare for the games in New Zealand with a small pool of players has been tough.

"New Zealand prides itself on being very skilful and sports mad but when it comes to numbers you can't compete with places like the USA, Australia and Great Britain who have bigger numbers and a lot more resources, so they have a massive advantage.

"However we all know we're there for each other and we're a tight-knit team."

The Wheel Blacks finished 11th at the 2018 World Championships and last played internationally in 2019 when they qualified for Tokyo.

"We're going to be one of the most inexperienced teams and that can be pretty dangerous because we don't know what we're in for but we're also going in with no fear and plenty of excitement and I'm sure we'll bring that to the court and we're ready to push these other teams.

Their first pool game in Tokyo is against the USA, three time Paralympic champions and one of the sides they lost to at the 2019 World Challenge tournament in Japan.

"It's going to be an unreal game, we haven't played them since 2019 and we've looked back at video from then and we're a much better team now, so that's positive that we can fix those mistakes from two years ago."

"Teams are probably going to be a bit different now but generally we're just focussing on getting ourselves better and we've been fortunate that because of a lack of Covid in New Zealand we've been able to get together regularly which may be an advantage for us."

They also have the highly ranked British and Canadians in their group and will probably need two wins to reach the semi-finals.

"You go into every game wanting to win so we're got teams that we're targetting and we feel that we can topple them and we have nothing to lose so we're going to play hard and hopefully get on the right side of the score board."

After a rugby injury at the age of 15, Everson met Paralympian Sholto Taylor, a long-time member of the Wheel Blacks while at the Burwood Spinal Unit.... the rest as they say is history.

Cody Everson playing for the Wheel Blacks.

Cody Everson playing for the Wheel Blacks. Photo: Supplied

Everson leads a young team and admits that they've all talked about building this team for the next two Olympics and he's hoping the exposure they get in Tokyo will get more New Zealanders involved.

Wheelchair rugby is also known as "quad rugby" in the United States and according to Paralympics NZ has the nickname "Murderball" because it can get brutal at times.

It was developed in Canada in the 1970's, was a demonstartion sport at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and made its debut as a full sport in Sydney in 2000.

The sport includes men and women although the New Zealand team consists of only men.

The sport involves passing, catching, carrying and dribbling and is played four aside on a regular sized basketball court.

A goal is scored when a player in possession of the ball crosses the opposition's goal line.

People with spinal cord injuries can suffer with body temperature regulation issues which means there are regular substitutions during a game.

New Zealand Paralympic Wheelchair rugby team:

Cody Everson, Christchurch

Barney Koneferenisi, Auckland

Hayden Barton-Cootes, Auckland

Robert Hewitt, Hamilton

Tainafi Lefono, Auckland

Gareth Lynch, Auckland

Gavin Rolton, Wellington

Mike Todd Christchurch

Tokyo Paralympic schedule:

25th Aug, 2:30pm, NZ v USA

26th Aug, 11pm, NZ v Great Britain

27th Aug, 11pm, NZ v Canada

28th Aug, semi-finals and classification games.

29th Aug, medal games