Murderball!!!! WOW, what a game, what an event and what a great story.
I found myself in Sydney this week for work for a couple of days and checked the “What’s On Guide” and stumbled across an intriguing event – the Tri-Series Wheelchair Rugby Tri-Nations tournament between Australia, New Zealand and USA – http://www.paralympic.org.au/news/wheelchair-rugby-hits-sydney-cbd
I’ve heard of the game before and have some vague memory of seeing highlights in the past but had never really given it any thought before.
As I read the information in more detail, I was sold on making the trip to Cathedral Square for the Wednesday night Trans-Tasman clash between the NZ Wheel Blacks and the Aussie Steelers (reigning 2010 Paralympic Gold Medallists).
I had no real concept of what to expect, but “boy oh boy a Lincoln Toy”, was I in for a treat.
A purpose built outdoor court, about the size of a basketball court, with some scaffold grandstands fitting a couple of hundred people, a big screen scoreboard and portable floodlights greeted us punters at the foot of the architectural splendour of St Mary’s Cathedral.
The game is “four on four” with a combination of rules from rugby, basketball and hockey,,,,, and with a bit of AFL bash and crash as the cherry on top. Played with a ball that seemed to most resemble a volley ball, the object of the game is to score goals by carrying the ball over the goal line (two wheels must cross the line and the player must have full control of the ball).
There’s an on field “salary cap” where each player is graded according to their disability from “0.5 (most impaired)” to “3.5 (least impaired)” and each team can only have a maximum of 8 points on the court at the one time. Generally the teams seemed to have two attacking “3/3.5s” and two defensive “0.5-1s” on court at a time, but with the occasional mix of 2s in there as part of the rotations.
The Steelers and Wheel Blacks had played the USA earlier in the day and both lost, so this game was of vital importance to keep in touch with the yanks.
From the warm ups it was clear that this was serious business and that these were serious athletes.
For Australia, the two guns were Bondy (Chris Bond) and Batto (Ryley Batt) – two big strong shaved headed monsters with pace, skill and agility – and a healthy dose of bash and crash attitude. Complementing the stars were Scotty (Ryan Scott) and Nazza (Naz Erdem) as defensive taggers – both from the 1970s Robbie McGhie/Kevin Grose mould and with the mad stare of a half back flanker. Like any great team there were another six Aussie warriors who did us proud.
For NZ, their star was Barney Konerferisi, who was like a cross between Cyril Rioli and Luke Hodge on wheels, and turned out to be a lone hand for the Wheel Blacks on the night with over half their goal score.
The first bounce saw a free kick against Batto and just like his AFL brothers, he gave the umps a spray! The Aussies got a great start on the NZ team with Bondy and Batto rolling rings around their opponents. Bondy was on fire with 8 goals and several “mad” crashes into opponents in the first quarter. His teamwork and understanding with Batto was like the Krakouer brothers of old. Their combination early in the first quarter saw us get out to an 8 goal lead.
By quarter time the game was essentially over with the Steelers blitzing 10 goal lead. The Wheel Blacks regrouped after quarter time and were more competitive, but the Steelers maintained a 8-15 goal lead through the rest of the game and ran out comfortable winners.
Whilst the result was a foregone conclusion, it was still of great interest to watch some of the tactics and individual performances. Tactically, it was awesome to see some of the forward press tactics of locking the opposition in their defence for a 12 second turnover (teams need to cross the halfway line within 12 seconds when bringing the ball back into play from full back after a goal, or they are penalised with a turnover).
Also the tactical time outs where the defender knows they’ll get pinged for the 12 second rule and call time out to avoid a turnover penalty (there are limits on the number of time-outs so these need to be exercised judiciously).
And the best of the lot, when a player is halfway through a “rollover”, where they are about to end up flat on their back and all wheels in the air, and they still have the composure to signal a time-out call to the umps as they are in mid air about to crash land!
As for the competitive spirit, it’s alive and well. The professional respect and will-to-win in the one on one contests between Barney and Batto was like watching Buckley and Voss going head to head in their prime.
It was a privilege to be there and it was a bloody damn feel-good event that I’m glad I took the time to experience.
The toughness these guys have in bashing chairs, the balance they have in trying to avoid rollovers, their strength to push those wheels, their determination and focus to get that ball or block their opponent, their skilful ball handling (deft touches, great vision, and one grab marks and pickups) and their amazing driving skills in heavy traffic was bloody awe inspiring.
And not to mention, their courage and determination to tackle their disability head on and have a fair dinkum crack at life and sport is inspirational.
If you happen to be in Sydney on Friday the 20th and get the chance to get down to Cathedral Square, just do it! If not, check the TV guide for Fox Sports 2 on Saturday Sept 28th (maybe set the recorder for this one as you may already have plans that arvo) and Sunday Sept 29th, or check out the website link above for future games. Trust me, you’ll bloody love it.
Murderball ?????? It’s to die for!