Stuart Williams departure game heads big Wheelchair weekend

There’s another big weekend of Wheelchair Rugby League coming up, with Wales skipper Stuart Williams saying goodbye on Saturday and the second round of Wales Invitational League fixtures on Sunday.

Williams, 38, has won 32 caps for Wales, scoring a Welsh record 66 tries in the process. He also jointly holds the Welsh record for the number of tries in a match, scoring six against Scotland in 2019, and has also kicked 12 goals, totaling 288 points for Wales. He captained Wales in last year’s World Cup, where they reached the semi-finals, and was named in the team of the tournament.

Now, he’s moving back to New Zealand, where he previously played Wheelchair Basketball, to join his family but still hopes to still be involved in Wheelchair Rugby League.

“I’m off to Christchurch,” he said. “It’s where I have family and I’ll be looking for work when I get over there.

“It has been talked about that I could help develop Wheelchair Rugby League in the area which is something I really keen to do. I’ve already had conversations with New Zealand Rugby League, as well as David Butler from the European Rugby League who is a Wheelchair RL player and referee, who’s put me in touch with someone from the NRL to help me actively push development in New Zealand.”

But first, Williams will play one final game in Wales, as his North Wales Crusaders side, who have already been crowned league leaders in the Championship, take on Super League side Warrington Wolves in a friendly match at Deeside Leisure Centre this Saturday (kick-off 10:45am) with the A sides of the two clubs competing after that.

“It’s a very nice thing to have been arranged for me,” he adds. “It makes me feel very honoured and very cared about. It’s nice that people want to see it happen and are putting it on.”

Williams leaves Wales Wheelchair Rugby League in very rude health. The first season of its own competition, the WRL Wheelchair Invitational League, kicked off a fortnight ago, and round two at Crook Log Sports Centre in London is this Sunday where host side Argonauts take on Cardiff Blue Dragons (kick-off 12.45pm) before Hereford Harriers face Torfaen Tigers (kick-off 2.45pm).

The focus on this league is development with league rules stating that only one current full international player can be on the field at one time during a game. For Williams, this was ideal follow on to a successful Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup last year in England where the Wheelchair players were given equal pay to the men.

“It’s fantastic that we have a Wales league set-up now and also great that we’ve not restricted it to only Wales,” said.

“We’ve the Argonauts and Hereford from England who are both getting themselves back in the mix and playing competitively after being pulled out of Super League, and that’s also similar with North Wales Crusaders. Hopefully the development of this league that we have will draw strong players who are keen to progress, and will grow and develop young players in Wales. This is something we’re already seeing come through at Crusaders, Torfaen Tigers and Cardiff Blue Dragons. This league gives clubs the chance not to be restricted by anyone and they can grow and develop as the years go on.

“Last year’s World Cup was a spectacular event for the sport and I really do hope that it all continues on going forward. I don’t know if I’ll be involved again but I hope all the plans work out well. I know they’re planning for the women’s World Cup to be separate in the future, but I hope that the men’s and wheelchair World Cups continue to go ahead as a unit and draw strengths from each other.”

Stephen Jones, the head of Wheelchair Rugby League in Wales, is sorry to see Williams depart and has paid tribute to him as a player and influential captain.

He said: “I’d like to thank Stuart for everything he’s done for Wales Rugby League ever since he came on board as a player. On the playing side, he’s always outstanding, his work-rate being second to none and that was proven last year when he was in the Wheelchair World Cup Team of the Tournament. As a captain, his leadership skills are also first class, he’s someone who the players trust on and off the field, which is so important. I’d like to wish him the best of luck in New Zealand and I hope he helps Wheelchair Rugby League in his new home country. If he decides to come back, we’ll always welcome him with open arms.”