Mirfield couple to represent England in the Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup

TEAM EFFORT Andy and Gina will represent England next month. (d402a326)
TEAM EFFORT Andy and Gina will represent England next month. (d402a326)

Three years ago Mirfield couple Gina Smallwood and Andy Wharton met while playing the sport they love.

Now they have both been selected to play for England in the Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup.

Andy, 34, was part of the team which won the cup in Australia in 2008.

This year’s contest is being held in Gillingham on July 3-13, and Gina – the only woman in the team –is relishing the challenge of retaining the cup in the same team as her partner.

She said: “I’m feeling really proud – to be on the only female in the team is just another challenge.”

Gina, 34, had to have her leg amputated after a blood clot. She was sporty before she lost the use of her legs – but didn’t let being in a wheelchair stop her.

“I played seated shotput, discus and javelin and I hold three British records but I lost my funding,” she said.

Gina took up wheelchair basketball before moving onto wheelchair rugby in 2009, where she met Andy.

“It’s taken me lots places,” she said. “It’s opened new doors – and I met my partner.”

Andy, who suffered a spinal injury in 2000, has been playing since 2004.

“When we are back at home that’s our time,” said Gina. “But when we are playing we do our own thing, that’s what we are focused on.”

The pair both play for Halifax Rugby League Wheelchair team, who were premiership champions in 2012.

Wheelchair Rugby League is played indoors with five players on each side. Teams are mixed sex and anybody can play, as long as they stay in a wheelchair for the duration of the 80 minute game.

As in the able-bodied game no pass-backs are allowed, but conversions are made by punching a ball through mini-posts with players’ hands.

Tackles are made by smashing into an opponent and taking the tag they wear.

“It’s a very physical game,” said Gina. “I’ve trained really hard and it’s paid off.”