National coach leads Otago wheelchair side

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Pass it on . . . Wheel Blacks coach Greg Mitchell passes the ball during an Otago wheelchair rugby practice session at the Edgar Centre on Tuesday night. PHOTO: JESSICA WILSON

Parafed Otago is sending an Otago wheelchair rugby team to the national tournament for the first time.

The team will compete in two of three rounds in the New Zealand Wheelchair Rugby Championship, travelling to Palmerston North in May and Auckland in July.

Parafed Otago sports development officer Kelly Nooy said the five players based in Otago would be joined by two from Manawatu and one from Australia.

Otago wheelchair rugby player Mia O’Keefe. PHOTO: JESSICA WILSON

Greg Mitchell, the coach of the New Zealand wheelchair rugby team, the Wheel Blacks, will play for and coach the team.

Mitchell, a Canterbury representative, was in Dunedin on Tuesday night for Parafed Otago’s weekly training.

He was excited to be part of the team and compete with Otago players again.

In previous years, Otago players have suited-up for Canterbury because there were not enough people to form a team here.

Auckland was the team to beat in the championship the bulk of the Wheel Blacks played up there Mitchell expected Otago to be competitive.

“I’m confident we are going to win a game.

“We’re not just there to make up numbers.”

Since many of the Otago players had experience at the championship, the team would “definitely scare a couple of teams out there”.

Mitchell, an able-bodied player, started playing when he filled in for his brother’s social team more than a decade ago.

His brother has cerebral palsy.

“It was great being able to do more things with him.”

His brother has stopped playing but Mitchell has represented Canterbury for the past 14 years.

“I love it.

“It’s a great competitive game to be part of.”

Nooy said wheelchair rugby had been relatively non-existent in Dunedin a few years ago before former sport development officer Kelsey Evans “revamped it”.

Although numbers had plateaued since then, there were still regular players who attended the weekly sessions at the Edgar Centre, she said.

“The [Otago] team will have a few more trainings . . . closer to when the tournaments are.”