Western Australia’s first rugby team for people with disabilities has started up in the southern Perth suburb of Success.
A new all-abilities team based at Southern Lions Rugby Union Football Club is not yet playing against other sides, but skills coach Wayne Arthur says when that happens the team will play with modified rules.
“It will be very little in the way of full contact, you know we just can’t risk that sort of thing,” says Arthur, a former coach of the Western Australian state rugby side.
“It will just be driven on the ability of the guys.
“It will be basically non-contact … but it will be as much as we can make it like the normal rules, and you know, it will be a form of touch rugby really.”
The idea for the side kicked off when Andrew Ferry, now the first captain of the all abilities team, asked if the club would be interested in starting a team for people with disabilities.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for people with disabilities to get involved that haven’t played rugby before,” Ferry says.
“I got involved because I wanted to give other people a go, like that can’t play or be physical.”
Ferry, who has an intellectual disability, says there were not many opportunities for him in sport.
“There’s [Australian Rules] footy, but I gave footy a try and I think I’m over footy,” he says.
Ferry says he likes to play in any position.
“I think it’s good,” he says.
“I’m happy with the team’s progress.
He says he hopes to attract more players, and start playing against other teams.
Club president Michael Penhaligon, who for 42 years has taught school students who have special needs, says Ferry will be a great spokesperson for the team.
“He’s really confident and he knows what he wants and he’s set the ball rolling,” Penhaligon says.
“It’s up to us now to make it happen, and we will.”
“It’s not going to be called ‘disabled rugby’ because I don’t believe in using those words.”
Penhaligon says the team members have varying abilities.
“In the team at the moment we’ve got a boy with Autism, a boy with Down Syndrome, two boys that are intellectually challenged and also of course a legally blind person,” he says.
“It’s not going to be called ‘disabled rugby’ because I don’t believe in using those words.
“It’s going to be called ‘all abilities rugby union’.”
The team has five members and Penhaligon is confident the number will grow.
“The interest I had from [a local, online bulletin board], for instance, was huge, like hundreds of people contacting us,” he says.
“… really my ideal would be to have a full team, which would be 15 …”
Penhaligon says the plan is for the all abilities team to play on a Saturday after the club’s Champion A Division game.
“… These guys will play under floodlights after the main game, which is great,” he says.
“It gives them a lot of exposure.”
“… These guys have come from up north and down south to get here …”
Penhaligon says that enjoying a drink after training is very important socially for the team.
“… People with disabilities, more than likely, I would say, are the most marginalised group of people within our society, and one of the things that they don’t have is social contact,” he says.
“This social side is as important as the physical side.
“… These guys have come from up north and down south to get here … .”
Penhaligon says team members and the club as a whole will benefit from the all-abilities side.
“It will grow [the team members’] confidence,” he says.
“… Rugby union has always been a very special sport as far as community is concerned.
“They will become very quickly a part of the community and it will grow around that.
“The other thing is our rugby community will benefit greatly from the experience of being with these guys.”
Another member of the team, Nikora Robinson, is keen to start playing.
“I’ve really enjoyed it starting up,” Robinson says.
“I don’t mind to play any [position].
“It’s pretty cool that it’s happening.
“It gets me out there to play some rugby.”
A co-ordinator at Disability Sports Australia, Kelsey Singh, says sport is extremely beneficial for the long term health and well-being of people with a disability.
“Sport and physical activity has proven to have significant health benefits for people with a disability,” she says.
“Sport and physical activity can also benefit psychological health and personal development along with having positive social, cultural and economic impacts.”
The team is open to players aged 16 years and older. At present, the youngest member is 18 and the oldest is 33.
Arthur says he, head coach Justin Arthur (his son and a onetime WA premiership player), and the all-abilities side will tackle whatever challenges they face together, as a team.
“We’ve just made our team motto ‘We look after each other’, ‘Rugby boys look after each other’,” he says.
“That’s the culture we’re going to have on the team.”