Taking World Cup winning momentum outside the heartlands for Magic round

Sebastian Sternik
Rob Hawkins

Picture by Will Palmer/SWpix.com

England and Halifax Panthers wheelchair star Rob Hawkins is excited about the prospect of promoting the sport outside of its heartlands ahead of the inaugural Magic Weekend round in Birmingham. 

Wheelchair rugby league gripped the nation during the 2021 World Cup as a combined peak audience of 1.3 million people tuned in to the final in November as England edged France in a thriller.

Since then, the Wheelchair Super League has returned for another thrilling season, with six clubs taking part in the competition. 

This year, the campaign will include four Magic Weekend events – starting in Birmingham this weekend. Newcastle, Manchester and London will host the remaining three. 

Halifax, who are the defending champions, kicked off the 2023 season with a 59-45 defeat away against Wigan Warriors last month. 

The Panthers returned to winning ways as they demolished Warrington Wolves 122-2 at the Sedbergh Sports and Leisure Centre. 

“Our main goal for that game was to fix up the mistakes we made against Wigan,” Hawkins told Love Rugby League. “We wanted to have a nice redemption match where we actually came out with a win. 

“We had full respect for Warrington and their players. On paper it may have looked easy but throughout that whole match we had to deal with a lot of different stuff.

“A lot of the tries that we concede are from our own mistakes. With us only playing on a 40x20metre surface, that one mistake can cost you a try. That game against Wigan proved that. Even against Warrington – that’s how they got their two points. They decided to go for the two points after an offside call.”

Hawkins alone scored 48points during the Warrington rout, though he credited his teammates for the impressive haul. 

He said: “Last season I got about 60 points past Hull but that was mainly from kick and chase the whole time. I don’t know what the record is to be honest. There’s been that many great players in this sport, that the record could just keep getting broken. 

“At the same time, it wasn’t just myself. It was my teammates helped me with the tries and that’s the way I look at it. It was a team effort. I don’t look at the individual points, it can all round up to a team effort at the end of the day.”

Halifax have an opportunity to avenge their early season defeat to Wigan as they take on the Warriors in the first of four Magic Weekend events. 

“It’s about cleaning up little mistakes and making sure we don’t rush,” said Hawkins when asked the key to victory.  

“Don’t rush the play of the ball, slow it down. Wigan are a team that’s very smart with what they do. 

“They’ll try and fake taking a tag, they’ll grab it and let go of it to make you think your tag is gone and you need to replace it. By then, you’ve either knocked on or you’re called for two tags on your shoulder.”

Wheelchair Super League: Wigan kick-off new season by downing defending champions

Promoting the sport in different locations

This weekend’s event will take place at the University of Birmingham in Edgbaston, with the headline fixture being the Halifax and Wigan rematch. 

When asked about the choice of city, Hawkins said: “I think it’s great. We’ve got four Magic Weekend this season taking place all over. 

“It’s about promoting the sport in different locations. With the backing from the World Cup, we want to keep that momentum for the wheelchair game. 

“We’ve got a lot more crowds at games this season so far. Wigan have had a strong support and we had a very good support as well. 

“It was good to see that we had a good local support come and cheer us on. A few young children as well. I’ve talked to a few parents and a few of the children who were in awe of the sport. Very good to see. 

“We want to carry on that momentum from the World Cup really.”

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