The 2021 Wheelchair Rugby League Grand Final saw the Leyland Warriors face the Leeds Rhinos at Medway Park in Gillingham as the Rhinos looked to clinch a famous treble but who had been pushed close by their opponents earlier in the season despite losing all five encounters.
With the support of wheelchair form of the sport gathering momentum based on its speed and intensity, the events showpiece final was broadcast live by SKY for the first time as they bring three Grand Finals to our viewing screens over the coming weeks.
The Rhinos were clear favourites having gone the entire season unbeaten, but the Warriors were confident that they could spring a surprise.
The opening exchanges were end to end, Tom Halliwell going close to scoring with just two minutes on the clock, but the ball ran dead.
Leeds finally got over the whitewash on seven when Ewan Clibbens took a Nathan Collins pass to cross on the overlap. Collins was able to add the touchline conversion for a 6-0 lead to the favourites.
A superb bullet pass on ten from Tom Halliwell found Nathan Collins in an acre of space to score in the corner. Collins added a second conversion from an identical spot, the Rhinos scoring at a point a minute.
A brilliant bit of skill from the skipper James Simpson saw the Rhinos in for their third as he dummied and evaded the tackle to go in from close. Collins added a third conversion with impeccable kicking for 18-0, Leyland had no answer.
The try of the opening quarter came from the Warrior on eighteen when Declan Roberts weaved his way through the Rhinos defence to score under the sticks and give himself a simple conversion to reduce the arrears to twelve.
An attack from behind on Roberts and one play later he was on hand to take a clever pass, charging through a gap to get the ball to ground. He again added his conversion and it had been a period of all Warriors.
On twenty-seven Roberts completed a ten-minute hat-trick as he took a long pass and scored in the corner. He added the conversion himself to level the scores, a brilliant Leyland fightback.
With a couple of minutes of the half remaining Leeds regained the lead when Collins found Simpson with a small overlap to ground in the corner. Collins hit the post with the conversion attempt, the Rhinos ahead by just four at the break after a fantastic first half.
Leyland were level again on forty-four as Jack Heggie took a Phil Roberts pass to score in the corner. Declan Roberts added the conversion and the Warriors had the lead for the first time in the game at 24-22.
On fifty-three the lead changed hands again with a long pass finding Jodie Boyd-Ward to score on her wheels in the left corner. Collins added the conversion, Leeds now ahead by 28-24.
Three minutes later Collins scored his second of the afternoon as he went over in the corner and came around behind the sticks to improve the angle, a risky move as he was tackled in the act of grounding but the referee awarded the try. He added the conversion for 34-24.
A Collins sprint saw him close, but he was tackled short of the line but a fast play the ball saw Clibbens over for his second of the match and the Rhinos third in a row. Collins couldn’t add the conversion, his side 38-24 ahead.
A brilliant try from Clibbens, injuring him in the action of grounding, saw a grounding after a long-range sprint for the corner to evade the tackle and get the ball on the ground, flipping his chair in the act of scoring. Collins was again unable to add the conversion, the lead eighteen points.
With ten minutes left on the clock Collins grabbed his hat-trick as he weaved through the defence and avoided the tacklers to sore under the sticks. He added the conversion from under the sticks to take the game beyond the Warriors at 48-24.
Martin Norris picked up a clever kick off to go in for a fifth Leyland try and with Roberts converting it was 30-48 but the way back was far too steep.
Leyland went in again on seventy-five with Adam Rigby on the end of a fast passing move to unseat himself as he went in at the corner. Roberts added the extras for 36-48 with three and a half minutes remaining.
Simpson added a hat-trick try after the final hooter as the Rhinos kept the ball alive and despite failing to add the conversion the Rhinos had a 52-36 win.
This was a fantastic advert for wheelchair rugby league which was broadcast to a national audience in a game where the lead changed hands on several occasions, and which showcased the best skills and excitement of a fast and sometimes brutal sport. The Leeds won the Grand Final and completed the season with the treble and unbeaten to lift the Grand Final Trophy.
Leeds Rhinos: James Simpson (3T), Nathan Collins (3T, 6G), Tom Halliwell, Ewan Clibbens (3T), Jodie Boyd-Ward (T). Interchange: Paul Horrobin.
Leyland Warriors: Declan Roberts (3T, 5G), Martin Norris, Adam Rigby (T), Phil Roberts, Matt Wooloff. Interchanges: Reece Duddle, Jack Heggie (T), Callum Young, Shaun Gash.
Referees: Matthew Ball & David Butler.