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Youth and experience to collide in City v Country contest

The emerging talents are coming to keep building a Queensland wheelchair rugby league dynasty and their skills will face the ultimate test in a City v Country battle in Townsville this weekend.

A wide spectrum of competitors of different abilities and backgrounds are set to collide, setting the stage for an action-packed clash from 3pm Saturday, to be streamed live on YouTube.

It's also going to be a moment to savour for Jeff Wright, returning to the representative arena with Country for the first time in rugby league since he captained Queensland in 2017.

From there he returned to his basketball roots and effectively retired from all chair sports in January 2020 after a whirlwind of sporting achievements following a T12 spinal injury in 2015.

Stepping away did have its positives for a time, especially being able to see Wheelaroos highlight merchant Bayley McKenna strut his stuff in what was once his chair.

But mounting a comeback has been a "good call" for the 55-year-old from Townsville, if not a little confronting.

“There’s one guy in our Country team and I’m 39 years older than him, so that’s a fair stretch, but I’ve got to compete with him, which I love," he said.

Jeff Wright and Pete Arbuckle. Photo: Supplied
Jeff Wright and Pete Arbuckle. Photo: Supplied

“It was three-odd years since I’d played and Pete (Arbuckle), he’s my best mate, talked me into coming to training late last year, so he got a chair organised.

“It’s great to be back with the lads, the old crew back together again, but at my age you appreciate it a lot more given I’ve played national league (basketball) and been to the Invictus Games a couple of years, winning gold medals and going overseas and things like that and when you give it up, you kind of miss it a bit.

“This time I’m really enjoying the work that’s got to go in and the camaraderie and competition.

"Team sports are just the best and I’m flying the flag for the old blokes."

At the other end, City and wheelchair rugby league newcomer Dylan Gawthorne has high hopes for the achievements he can earn in the sport.

The lifelong rugby league lover has been having a taste of the sport since 2021, making the switch from basketball, and said he was loving the environment.

There's just one hurdle he's been needing to get over to commit to the representative path - somehow this Brisbane-bred 25-year-old has grown up supporting the Blues and the Manly Sea Eagles.

“I grew up in Brisbane but the only person I watched footy with was my old man and he was a Manly-Warringah and Blues supporter," he said.

Dylan Gawthorne. Photo: Jacob Grams/QRL
Dylan Gawthorne. Photo: Jacob Grams/QRL

"My primary school was a really big soccer school, so no one really watched (league). When I got to high school everyone was a Broncos or Queensland supporter, so it was good to have a bit of competition as well and it sort of stuck."

At 14, Gawthorne turned to wheelchair basketball as a competitive outlet after coming off a skateboard - not wearing a helmet - going down a hill "at a fair clip" and suffering a T12 spinal injury.

But seeing the ambition of wheelchair rugby league has sparked his own desire to join the sport and get on the representative path.

“Wheelchair sports is so fantastic for people with a disability and able-bodied as well, it’s a great perspective.

Match highlights: QLD v NSW Wheelchair State Challenge

"Everyone’s got something going on, but they just get past it to play their sport and try their hardest which is pretty awesome to see… and now I’ve been able to transfer to a sport that’s a little more dear to me, it’s awesome.

“I’m pretty lucky having the chair skills coming across from basketball and a lot of man-on D in basketball, it’s more unique in that you can physically stop a chair.

"It’s super-physical once you get to that top level so I was lucky enough to have that energy and environment early on after my accident, so that was really good to instil into me.

“I’d like to see where I can go with (rugby league), as far as I can push. I can see it’s gaining a lot of traction and a lot of support.

"They were looking at going over to Vegas and I know that might have fizzled… but there are opportunities that are constantly changing for it and if the sport grows I’d love to be a part of it to see what I can do.

"If I can make an impact in it, that would be great."

His first chance comes on Saturday, 3pm at Townsville Sports Precinct. Entry is free for spectators.

Queensland Wheelchair Rugby League - City v Country

Team lists

Country: 2. Tyson Barry, 4. Pete Arbuckle, 5. Jeff Wright, 6. Brett Bazley, 7. Bayley McKenna, 8. Zac Schumacher, 9. Garry Best, 10. Warren Abbey, 11. Jayson Hooker, 12. Anthony Doyle

City: 1. James Hill, 2. Jack Kruger, 3. Shaun Harre, 4. Dan Anstey, 5. John Clarke, 6. Stephen French, 7. Cory Mostran, 8. Shannon Buxton, 9. Dylan Gawthorne, 10. Daniel Scott

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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