The continuing wave of COVID-19 positive cases has forced the NSW and Queensland teams to play their Wheelchair State of Origin game on Saturday without spectators.
The match will still go ahead on 29 January at Sydney’s Whitlam Centre in Liverpool but a directive from the NRL’s medical team has forced the change in public attendance.
The game will be live streamed on NSWRL TV.
“The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is increasingly impacting the community,” NRL Wheelchair Rugby League chairman Martin Meredith said.
“Our number one priority is the health and safety of players and spectators, and we must follow medical advice at this time.
“While it is disappointing that this year’s game will be held without a crowd, we feel fortunate that the Queensland team can travel to Sydney for the game that was postponed twice last year.”
NSWWRL named a 10-strong side last year but they were unable to play due to the 2021 lockdowns in Sydney.
There are five players per side on court at a time, with each team allowed two AB (able-bodied) players making wheelchair rugby league one of the most inclusive sports around.
NSW Blues coach Edie George said his players wanted to play in front of their families and supporters.
“It’s not ideal because the players are very proud to wear the NSW jersey,” George said.
“But the safety of everyone is paramount, so we respect the decision. And we still get to play and that’s really important for us.
“We want to showcase what the wheelchair game is all about and how good our athletes are.”
George said training had been going well – with a final session planned for Thursday 27 January.
“Everyone is still very excited to play and the combinations are working well,” George said.
“I do have a couple of players with some niggly injuries so there could be a few new faces in the starting side.”
The NSW Blues side is: Brad Grove, Brett Henman, Cory Cannane (AB), Craig Cannane, Diab Karim (AB), Eddie Morgan, Jason Attard (AB), Liam Luff, Rick Engles, Tim Robinson (AB).
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the interstate clash has been cancelled in both 2020 and 2021.
NSW is the reigning champion winning the 2019 Origin convincingly, 52-4.
The rules closely mirror the 13-a-side running game but obviously without tackles, scrums, or traditional play-the-balls.
Players must pass backwards, possession changes after six tackles, the ball must be grounded on the try line or in-goal, and the points-scoring system is the same.
Players are tackled similar to OzTag – by defenders removing an attacking players’ velcro tag worn on the shoulders. The “field” is half the size of the running game – 50m x 25m – or across three indoor basketball courts.