England have strengthened their squad for next week’s two-Test series against France at Medway and two Halifax Panthers’ players are included, Nathan Mulhall and Rob Hawkins.
England have also recalled Martin Norris of Wigan Warriors after a seven-year absence, and include Freya Levy of the Argonauts for the first time.
Norris and Levy are rewarded for the form they showed in the closing stages of the Betfred Wheelchair Super League season, as England refocus following the postponement of the World Cup to the autumn of 2022.
France are the reigning World Cup champions, and after the first Test on Wednesday November 10 (630pm kick-off), Wheelchair Rugby League’s oldest rivals will play for the Fassolette-Kielty Trophy – named after pioneers on either side of the Channel – in the second Test on Saturday November 13 (4pm kick-off).
Both games will be shown live on BBC iPlayer, the BBC Sport website and app, and limited tickets are still available.
Norris was a member of the first Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby League team in 2006 and captained the side from 2008-14, including in two World Cup campaigns, before putting his career on hold after a move to Lincolnshire.
“I’m really honoured to be back involved and looking to use my experiences to help the squad be successful,” said the Lancastrian, who will be a member of Wigan Warriors’ first Wheelchair RL squad in 2022.
In contrast Freya Levy is a recent convert to Wheelchair Rugby League after previously representing England at Wheelchair Basketball and Para Ice Hockey. Originally from Essex, she has become a regular in Kent playing for the Argonauts – and will be joined in the England squad by club team-mates Joe Coyd, Lewis King and Fred Nye.
“It’s a complete honour to be putting on an England shirt for Rugby League next week and I hope it’s the start of many more,” she said. “As the only female in the team, both the staff and squad have made me feel incredibly welcome and at home. I’m excited for what the future holds with this team, especially with the World Cup next year. The delay has enabled us to train harder and smarter to be in the best possible position to take home the trophy.”
Head Coach Tom Coyd includes three members of the Leeds Rhinos team who clinched a domestic double with victories in the Challenge Cup Final in Sheffield and the Super League Grand Final in Medway – James Simpson, Nathan Collins and Tom Halliwell, who led England to a big win over Wales in his first game as captain in the Mid-Season International in June.
Norris is joined by his future Wigan team-mates Declan Roberts and Adam Rigby, a member of the Leyland Warriors team beaten by Leeds in the Grand Final, and the 13-strong squad is completed by Seb Bechara (Catalans Dragons), and Rob Hawkins and Nathan Mulhall of Halifax Panthers.
The week also includes an England Knights v France Espoirs fixture on Friday November 12.
Tom Coyd said: “We have selected the best domestic English players for the toughest matches we have played since 2019. Our preparation has been excellent and we’re excited to measure ourselves against the best in the world.”
Martin Coyd OBE, the General Manager of Wheelchair Rugby League, adds: “
Coming after a year of total inaction on the field in 2020 and a fragmented start to the 2021 season, all as a result of Covid restrictions, we have this great opportunity to end the year with a mouth-watering series.
“We have got over the disappointment of the World Cup postponement and are fully focused on the opportunities presented to raise the bar even higher. We have undergone a ground-breaking, science-based testing programme at Leeds Beckett University and are developing our on-field performance with innovative data analysis which is giving us a valuable insight into our play.
“We have invested a huge amount into building our capability in football, sports science, medicine and equipment and this is a timely opportunity to benchmark ourselves against the French a year out from the World Cup.”
England’s revised schedule for the World Cup in 2022 is expected to be confirmed later this month.
England Wheelchair RL National Performance Squad
Joe Coyd – Argonauts
James Simpson – Leeds Rhinos
Seb Bechara – Catalans Dragons
Lewis King – Argonauts
Nathan Collins – Leeds Rhinos
Tom Halliwell (C) – Leeds Rhinos
Adam Rigby – Wigan Warriors
Rob Hawkins – Halifax Panthers
Declan Roberts – Wigan Warriors
Nathan Mulhall – Halifax Panthers
Fred Nye – Argonauts
Martin Norris – Wigan Warriors
Freya Levy – Argonauts