Wheelchair League

SANFL Wheelchair Football Season gets underway

Norwood's 2024 SANFL Wheelchair Football Squad.

The 2024 Novita SANFL Wheelchair League commences this Friday night, with Norwood taking on Central District at The Lights Community and Sports Centre from 8pm.

The SANFL Wheelchair League enters its fourth season, and again as a four-team competition, including the Redlegs, Woodville-West Torrens, Sturt and Central District.

Norwood Captain Grant Leonard was looking forward to Round 1, and is bullish on his side’s chances this season.

“We have been training really hard over the last four or so months,” Leonard said.

“We have been getting people adjusted to their new positions, practicing their new roles. It’s the best team structure we’ve had to date.

“We’ve improved greatly in the sense that we’ve all gelled together. A lot of the guys have played wheelchair basketball together over the last 10 or so years, so we’ve got an idea how everyone plays and operates.

“Our side has a handy mix of taller players, and therefore we have some more height down back, and then more speed up forward.”

The team will be coached by David Gould.

The Redlegs had recruited well over the off-season, signing former WWT Eagle and 2023 South Australian representative Chris Simpson.

“Chris has come over from Woodville, and his son Nathan (when available) as well – they will be handy additions down back and that means we can rotate our team around the court a little better,” Leonard said.

“We can now utilize our points classification system better, get a greater spread across court.

“We have improved our team, compared to the last couple of seasons, but as has each of the clubs that we’re playing against – they’ve improved with their rosters as well. So it’s going to be challenging, but we’re definitely heading in the right direction.”

Leonard said Wheelchair Football was a tough, physical, intense sport.

“Ten-minute quarters might not sound that physical, but it’s a small court so there’s constant pushing and pressure,” he said.

“You’re not on a big footy oval where it takes a bit to transition from end to end. On a court, the ball is there within a second. You’ve got to have your chair position ready, and structures set up, and always ready for the ball to come down.

“The first couple months of pre-season was just pure fitness and pushing. Like all sports, fitness is the main focus. Skills are needed, because it’s a different skill set trying to handball a footy in a wheelchair.”

Norwood captain Grant Leonard.

Leonard started with Wheelchair Football in 2019, and has represented South Australia on multiple occasions since then. Including as State Captain at the AFL Wheelchair Championships in 2022 and 2023.

“I had a cycling accident in 2006, and as a result suffered a high-level spinal cord injury,” he said.

“I have dabbled in a few sports over the years, but got into wheelchair footy back in 2019. I started mucking around with Wheelchair Footy with my son and the guys at Hampstead Rehab Centre on a Sunday afternoon.

“This led to my first National Carnival in 2019, which we won, and then 2021 was the intro of the SANFL Wheelchair League – I was fortunate to captain-coach Norwood in that first year. We made the Grand Final, but unfortunately didn’t get the result we wanted, but we were happy to be there.

“I grew up following the Redlegs, when I played school and club football (Tea Tree Gully Football Club), Norwood was the team we followed. When Nathan Pepper (SANFL Disability Programs Coordinator) asked me to be a part of the SANFL Wheelchair League, I said I was going to be Norwood, and pretty much only Norwood.”

Leonard said Wheelchair Football was an outstanding initiative.

“Yeah, it’s really important for the sport to be inclusive,” he said.

“It’s a sport for people with physical disabilities, mental disabilities, but it also includes able bodied people. With your point structure, you can still have someone who’s completely able bodied in a chair, and that’s where the sport has grown from the start.

“I think it’s a great sport to be able to play with family members. My son, I can’t get on a footy field with him, but when I first started playing Wheelchair Footy, he could jump in a chair and play with me.”

Norwood’s nine-round SANFL Wheelchair League competition gets underway this Friday night, with every match played as a double header at The Lights Community and Sports Centre on Hampstead Road, Lightsview.

Click the below links to learn more about Wheelchair Football, the rules and classification explanations, the SANFL Wheelchair Football Fixture, and the Norwood 2024 Squad.