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James Simpson: Being stopped in street shows England’s wheelchair stars’ impact

JAMES Simpson may come from Leeds but is loving Manchester after England’s wheelchair stars got the recognition they deserve.

The stars of the show so far, the sport has captured the nation’s imagination, may insist they still have a job to do – beat France to the World Cup.

James Simpson believes being recognised in the street shows how big wheelchair rugby league has become

But the exposure they have received means a large part of the task – getting it out there – is completed.

And a moment in the city they hope to lift the trophy in showed just how big an impact they have made.

Former soldier Simpson, who lost his legs after stepping on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, said: “There have been quite a few moments but we got to Manchester on Monday and within 10 minutes, two separate people recognised us and asked for photos.

“That was brilliant. We were unpacking the bus and two different guys came up and said, ‘Are you the England wheelchair team?’

“We went out for a meal and someone recognised Jack Brown and Seb Bechara. That’s been quite unexpected from people and it’s amazing to see.

“It comes in moments you wouldn’t expect – maybe once or twice at a match but not in Manchester outside a hotel when you’re unloading! It’s crazy.

“And Manchester’s really accessible for us, I love it. We’ve people in chairs, people on crutches and people with prosthetics and we’re getting around just fine.

“Even though we are on the wrong side of the Pennines!”

Simpson and England’s wheelchair stars can cap a monumental rise for the sport that has seen hundreds of thousands of people tune in and be amazed.

Another world record crowd is expected at tonight’s (Fri) final, a repeat of 2017’s which France won 38-34, but despite the adulation and recognition, things are not complete.

Simpson added: “The job isn’t done. The nation falling in love with wheelchair rugby league is amazing but our objective is to win the World Cup.

Jack Brown and his team-mates go for glory against France

“We don’t want to fall short. We’re here to win and we’re not getting too crazy. We don’t want to go out and do some stuff that isn’t like us.

“I move on fast, so I’ve put it behind me but for some of the other players, the last final might be in the back of their heads.

“However, everyone’s just focused on the job. I’ve never seen us like it as a group and in every training session, the intent is 10 out of 10.

“As soon as one ends, everyone’s straight on to each other, ‘Well done, well done.’ It’s ace and it’s brilliant to see the players.

“And we’re not even thinking about the bigger occasion. All it is is one game, that’s it.”

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