With the final whistle now blown on RLWC 2021, Warrington is looking back on a tournament which has been a real game-changer, particularly for disability sport.
As well as hosting the Papa New Guinea men’s team – and also welcoming Tonga and Samoa to the town – Warrington made history in October, by hosting the tournament’s first ever Physical Disability Rugby League (PDRL) tournament.
Hosting the full, inaugural PDRL World Cup, has helped raise the profile of the sport on the international stage, as well as putting Warrington on the map as a centre of disability sporting commitment and excellence.
Thousands of people attended the eight PDRL matches from 23-30 October (seven taking place at Victoria Park, with the final at Halliwell Jones Stadium) to see Australia, New Zealand, Wales and eventual winners England in action. Over 1,000 people turned up to each of the group stages, with an estimated 2,000 people watching the final, which was also broadcast live on BBC iPlayer – a move which has given the sport unprecedented and much-welcomed coverage.
The tournament’s profile – and Warrington’s role in it - was further boosted by the involvement of Channel 4’s ‘The Last Leg’ comedian Adam Hills MBE, who was part of the Australia PDRL team, and is renowned for his work with physical disability rugby league. The draw for the matches was held on The Last Leg show, and Adam also took part in a Good Morning Britain interview to promote the tournament at Victoria Park.
Warrington Borough Council’s cabinet member for leisure and community, Cllr Tony Higgins, said: “I’m delighted that we have played our part in the most inclusive RLWC ever, with wheelchair and physical disability matches being played alongside men’s and women’s tournaments.
“The incredible atmosphere created by the matches, alongside our fantastic Fanzone and first-class cultural events brought our communities together in a huge celebration of the sport.
“This was a landmark tournament for disability rugby league and for Warrington to be chosen as host town for the PDRL World Cup was a huge honour. We have worked closely with partners – in particular the Warrington Wolves Foundation - to make Victoria Park an inclusive, accessible centre of rugby league excellence, so it was no surprise it proved to be the perfect venue for the competition.
“We can be very proud of our involvement in RLWC2021, and for our role in helping deliver a tournament which will help boost the growth of disability sport in Warrington and further afield.”
Much of Warrington’s rapid progress in inclusive rugby league centres around the council’s Victoria Park stadium in Latchford, the second home of Warrington Wolves, where, together with the Wolves Foundation, they train and host women’s, men’s, youth, physical and learning disability teams.
In 2020, the council worked with the Wolves Foundation to successfully secure £600,000 from the RLWC2021 “CreatedBy” legacy fund, to support the development of a rugby league centre of excellence at Victoria Park.
The council matched this funding to deliver a £1.2m project - including a new, state-of-the art 3G pitch - aimed at increasing participation in local rugby league by players of all ages and abilities. Now, it is giving a diverse mix of local players the opportunity to use high quality facilities, both for training and competitive match play.
This set the scene for the newly developed Victoria Park to become the host venue for the first ever PDRL World Cup, as well as serving as an additional training base for RLWC2021 visiting teams.
Warrington Borough Council’s Chief Executive Professor Steven Broomhead MBE, who is also Non-Executive Vice Chairman of Warrington Wolves Rugby League team, said: “RLWC2021 has been a real success story for Warrington, once again showcasing our fantastic sporting credentials and our ability to host high-profile events.
“In particular, bringing the first ever PDRL World Cup to Warrington is a real source of pride for our town. It’s fantastic to see our investment in Victoria Park as an inclusive centre of excellence for rugby league paying dividends and breaking down barriers to participation.
“All in all, I believe our many successes as a host town for the tournament will help create a lasting legacy, inspiring many more young people to get involved in the sport, regardless of age, ability or gender.”