12 April 2024

The Canberra Raiders are leading the way as one of the most inclusive sporting clubs in the region

| Tim Gavel
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Wheelchair rugby league player

The Rolling Raiders is a wheelchair rugby league program that provides an avenue for more people to engage in the sport. Photo: Canberra Raiders.

Most of us watching the Raiders NRL and NRLW teams have little understanding of the depth of the club’s dedication to the wider community beyond the elite players.

Not only are there extensive junior representative programs and the local grade competitions, but there is another layer to the Raiders as an expansion of the club’s identity.

It is the commitment to players with a disability, both physical and intellectual, that deserves greater coverage.

The Rolling Raiders is an inclusive wheelchair rugby league program run by the club for all people, not just those with a disability. There are no barriers to age or gender.

The Raiders have worked hard to promote their wheelchair rugby league program well beyond the boundaries of the ACT, holding clinics in Wagga Wagga, Griffith and Bathurst.

At the moment, there are enough players for two teams in Canberra, and the players join forces to compete as the Rolling Raiders in the NSW League.

woman in wheelchair playing league

The enjoyment of engaging in wheelchair rugby league is obvious. Photo: Canberra Raiders.

On the weekend, the Rolling Raiders debuted in the NSW League Tier 1 competition against Parramatta at the Menai Indoor Sports Centre.

It was the culmination of three years of hard work after the concept was developed.

Anthony McQueen is the Canberra Region Rugby League’s Accreditation and Inclusion officer.

He says, “We are looking to have a Tier 2 team next year involving a lot of our junior players. This will help them gain game experience before they go into the elite. It would be used as a feeder program for the Tier 1 team.”

The Raiders are looking to establish training bases in regional cities to build the program, but with chairs costing $5000 each, it is an expensive exercise.

Beyond the wheelchair program, the Raiders have also established a program for players with an intellectual disability and cerebral palsy.

The Score Raiders program is a collaboration with the well-regarded Disability Trust. It’s embedded in the Canberra junior competition, with players engaged in a version of rugby league involving two-handed touch.

The Score Raiders players and support staff

The Score Raiders program collaborates with the Disability Trust and is part of the Canberra junior competition. Photo: Canberra Raiders.

Stacey Studholme is the Canberra Region Rugby League’s Junior Competition Administrator. She says of the program: “We want all junior rugby league teams to have a Score team with the Canberra team being the ultimate goal.”

Experienced sports administrator Mark Vergano is the general manager of the Canberra Region Rugby League.

“The Jersey Flegg and NRLW squad members are involved in skill development work with the Score players,” Mark explains.

“It has a two-fold benefit: the Score players love being around the Raiders and we utilise it as a life experience for the young Raiders, mixing and mentoring outside their comfort zone.”

Members of the Score Raiders program

Members of the Score Raiders program. Photo: Canberra Raiders.

For Mark Vergano, it’s part of the vision of the important role the club plays in the community.

“We pride ourselves on being an all-inclusive community club that is not just about the NRL and the NRLW. We can use our brand and influence in the community to promote sport beyond the elite.”

For further enquiries on the Wheelchair Rugby League program, email amcqueen@raiders.com.au. For further information about the Score Disability Trust Raiders program for players with an intellectual disability or cerebral palsy, visit the Disability Trust or sstudholme@raiders.com.au.

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Ricky Stuart and the Raiders really embrace the broader Canberra community. Particularly the disadvantaged, disabled and sick.

So many times a Raider visits a kid in hospital, serves food at the homeless centre or donates a signed jersey to charity. All without fanfare.

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