JAMES Simpson believes the impact of England’s Wheelchair World Cup win can roll rugby league on to bigger and better things.
He knows just how much of a mark it has made as he was stopped in a supermarket by people congratulating him weeks after winning the trophy.
England saw off France 28-24 in a final watched by the fourth world record crowd of the tournament just over two months ago.
And success is being felt outside the champions as a new club has started in Edinburgh on the back of the exposure of the undoubted hit of the tournament, with new sides and new players of all ages taking the sport up.
There is also talk of new events as plans will really swing into action this month.
“The most pleasing thing is how many people have messaged to start playing,” said England and Leeds ace Simpson, who lost his legs when he stepped on an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan.
“On the back of the World Cup, we did some open sessions where we had 40 people in chairs. Some are what you’d call newly-disabled, who have been for less than a year.
“The World Cup was an eye opener for them. It showed it’s not over, there are sports they can play. It inspired them. We’ve also had 10 and 11-year-olds, who are disabled, come along.
“Recognition in the street during the World Cup was one thing but I was stopped in Morrisons the other day by people congratulating me and getting invited to Sports Personality of the Year was huge.
“Being in that room with huge stars was crazy. It’s strange to think we’re included at that level.”
Super League clubs Salford Red Devils, Huddersfield Giants and Hull KR are launching new sides while Wigan and Leeds have added a second after more than 30 new people attended sessions.
Hull FC report more than 15 extra players, while Warrington had 16 and Wakefield had more turn up.
Championship clubs Bradford, Batley and York have launched new sides while Sheffield say more than 30 people have come on board.
Rochdale are also reporting a surge in interest and Simpson added: “You’ve got Super League clubs starting sides then you’ve Edinburgh Giants, which isn’t affiliated to any club, they’re starting from scratch.
“To have a team in the capital city of Scotland, that’s amazing if that gets going.”
SunSport understands the 2023 season launch will see wheelchair players alongside the men’s and women’s games and more matches will be screened on Sky Sports after 500,000 tuned in to the World Cup final.
And Simpson believes London’s Copper Box, Manchester Central or even Leeds’ Arena may host occasions.
He told SunSport: “I really do, they’re looking at all kinds of options, like Magic Weekend where all matches are played at a central venue like the Copper Box, Manchester or Sheffield.
“It makes matches more like a festival. If people are going to travel, they’re going to travel for two, three or four games a day.
“The World Cup led the way with that and it’s a great way to get more people to watch. I think we’ll get a much better impression of what’s coming this month.
“I’m confident we’ll see pushes towards amazing things for the sport.”
Even IMG, the strategic partner that is ‘re-imaging’ the 13-a-side code on this side of the world, see the commercial potential of the wheelchair game.
Matt Dwyer, the man who drew up their plans, said: “It was a case of, ‘Wow, this is really interesting.’
“It was always part of the overall spectrum of the game we were looking at but we all sat there going, ‘Wow, that was a real success. What are the right next steps for the sport?’”
Frank Slevin, boss of the newly-formed Rugby League Commercial body, added: “The wheelchair final was a standout piece of theatre, so we need to ask, ‘How do we make more of that?’”
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