Warrington Wolves player travels 450 miles to play for club's disability team

By Brent PilnickBBC Sport
Travelling 450 miles to play rugby league

Very few people set off for Thursday night rugby training before midday - but then few people have the commitment of Anthony Seward.

The 22-year-old leaves his home in the mid-Devon town of Tiverton and travels over 220 miles to Warrington in Cheshire to play rugby league.

"Since my injury I always wanted to get back into something along the lines of rugby, but never thought I'd be able to do full contact rugby," he told BBC Sport.

"When I saw this story on Adam's Instagram, I asked about who to contact and where to come and the rest is history."

The Adam in question is The Last Leg presenter and comedian Adam Hills, who was looking for team-mates for the Warrington Wolves' Physically Disabled Rugby League (PDRL) team.

Not only has it led to Anthony doing a 450-mile round trip each week for training - and again if there is a game - but also to a chance to help the Wolves become the inaugural world club champions at PDRL.

Wolves are the top side in the UK and are currently in Sydney preparing to take on their PDRL rivals from the South Sydney Rabbitohs - Australia's leading disability side.

"If you'd have told me six months ago that I'd be going to Australia playing rugby league with the likes of these guys I wouldn't have said some nice words to you," added Anthony.

Two years ago his life was turned upside down - a retained fire-fighter who worked in a factory part-time, he dreamed of joining the fire service as a career, but after a workplace accident all that changed.

He lost most of the fingers on his left hand and struggled with the emotional, as well as the physical, injuries he suffered.

"I was retired from the fire service and my other jobs," he said. "I was struggling a lot because there was nothing to fill the day, there wasn't much motivation to get you out in the morning, but this has brought that back."

What is PDRL?

Rugby league has adapted its rules slightly in order to allow players with physical disabilities to compete.

It is played over a full-length field, but the width of the pitch is reduced by 5m on either side.

There are nine players on a team instead of 13, with some very defined roles:

  • Two 'red shorts' players - non-contact players who tackle and are tackled as you would in tag rugby
  • Two able-bodied players - full contact players, such as Shaun Briscoe for Warrington, who can carry the ball no more than 10m at a time and cannot score any tries or goals
  • Five full-contact disability players
'When we're together, none of us are the freaks'

Warrington Wolves' PDRL team is the epitome of inclusivity - players with disabilities as diverse as limb deficiencies, brain tumours, cerebral palsy and visual impairments all come together to play the sport they love.

"The only way I can explain it is when I walk down the street in a pair of shorts people look at my prosthetic leg - of course they do," said Hills, who alongside Alex Brooker and Josh Widdicombe has been widely praised for the role The Last Leg has played in bringing disability issues to the mainstream.

"When I play PDRL no-one looks at my prosthetic leg, and that's what I love about this.

"We're all here because we love playing rugby league and disabilities just fall away when we get here."

Anthony's commitment is 'first class'

Hills is the person in the team who can empathise most with Anthony's commitment to travel - he does a two-hour commute from his London home to Warrington on the train to play.

"I understand the obsession, but then on the other hand when you look how far away Devon is from Warrington and how far Anthony's travelling each week, and the fact that he told his parents he was going to a different Warrington that was closer than this one, I'm just blown away."

Anthony initially thought he was going to a village outside Northampton with the same name, which is slightly closer to his home than the town in between Liverpool and Manchester - and the teething problems did not end there.

"His first training session we didn't know he was coming up, so he drove all the way up and we'd cancelled training," said Briscoe, the former England, Wigan, Hull FC and Hull KR back who now works for the Warrington Wolves Foundation and is one of the side's able-bodied players and coaches.

"The commitment and Tony's attitude shone through in that he came up again the following week when we did train.

"That commitment that he shows is unbelievable to drive up so far. It's not like it's once a month, it's every week and games at the weekend as well, so his dedication and commitment are first class."

Can they be world champions?

"This whole thing was organised so I could play for South Sydney," said Hills in a half-jokey, half-serious way as they prepare to take on his hometown heroes.

"But then we became the unofficial best team in the UK - we've got a better record than all the other teams.

"Then the South Sydney Rabbitohs team won their grand final so they're officially the best team in Australia, and we're now competing to see who's the best team in the world."

And as it turns out Anthony, who scored five tries on his debut, could be their secret weapon.

"Literally with his first touch he scored because he's faster than anyone we've come across," added Hills.

"When he played at Halliwell Jones Stadium, Lee Briers - one of the legends of Warrington - said he got goose bumps when he watched Anthony run as he is so quick."

But whoever becomes the best team in the world, in many ways rugby league is secondary to the effect it is having on the people who are playing.

"We intend to change people's lives through sport," said Briscoe.

"Everyone's got their own story, but Tony's is a special one, and if each individual can go on to something bigger or better then it'll be a big feather for us in our caps."

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