Get around your Victoria Protect Thunder players at the Paralympics!
In the last hit-out before the Tokyo Paralympics, the challenges would come before the matches started.
The latest Victorian pandemic scare saw the players and staff make a last-minute dash across the Queensland border before it shut. Unfortunately, not all made it across in time. Victoria’s second division team – the ETU Sparx – was forced to pull out due to COVID regulations. Victoria Protect Thunder Head Coach David Phillips shared how the group reacted to the heartbreaking news.
“We had to re-group,” Phillips said. “We’re a tight-knit group and there’s a lot of support there. We helped one another through those decisions. Everyone who did qualify to take the court did exceptionally well and did Victoria proud.”
The Gold Coast Sports Leisure Centre played host to the country’s best Wheelchair Rugby competitors. It was a landmark occasion with Kayo Sports and Foxtel showcasing the sport to mainstream audiences providing live coverage of all of the matches played across the four days.
The Thunder asserted itself as a Grand Final fancy in the group stages with strong wins over the QLD Cyclones. However, there proved to be a gap between the Thunder and NSW Gladiators with no answers over the first two days against the world-class combination of Ryley Batt and Andrew Edmonson.
The stage was set for a blockbuster semi-final against Queensland on Sunday. The Cyclones were quick to score in the first half and held a lead throughout the entire match, despite many late pushes by the Thunder. Two-time Paralympic gold medallist Chris Bond was the game-breaker for Queensland, playing exceptionally and leading his team to a narrow victory.
The NSW Gladiators convincingly defeated the QLD Cyclones in the Grand Final to be crowned 2021 National Champions.
Ben Fawcett (named in the All- Australian Team as the best low pointer of the tournament), Jayden Warn (who was ‘reliable as ever’) and the 20-year-old Thomas Klein were Victoria’s standouts over the weekend.
Another strong performer was experienced Victoria Thunder player and two-time Paralympic gold medallist Jason Lees.
“It was our first tournament playing as Victoria for two years now,” Lees said. “We played quite well. We had little patches where we didn’t perform as well as we could’ve. That’s probably what cost us in that semi-final. Queensland is a great team; we always have very close games against Queensland. On the day, they were just better than us. It was a bit disappointing, but that’s how sport goes.”
Many of the Thunder players have put in strong performances to be named in the Australian Steelers squad for the Paralympics. One of these players includes Lees who is seeing Tokyo as his final Paralympics.
“All going well with selection and the games going ahead without any hiccups, we will be trying to win that gold medal that we want.”
We can’t thank Protect enough for their continuous support in helping make Wheelchair Rugby what it is in Victoria. Make sure to get around your Victoria Protect Thunder players at the Paralympics!