Cameron Leslie to lead Wheel Blacks at Wheelchair Rugby worlds

By James Perry

Veteran Wheel Black Cameron Leslie (Ngāpuhi) will co-captain the team at next month's Wheelchair Rugby World Championships in Denmark, after missing the 2020 Paralympics. 

Leslie is one of nine players who will head to Vejle, 100km north of the border with Germany, including the return of another veteran, Maia Marshall-Amai (Tūhoe), from health issues and Wheel Blacks 2020 Paralympics star Hayden Barton-Coots (Tainui, Ngāti Raukawa).

The Wheel Blacks team is made up of a core of Paralympians who represented New Zealand at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, where they finished eighth. 

Marshall-Amai, who has a classification of 2.5, is in the squad for the first time since 2018 when she was regarded as the best female player in the world. After her long recovery, she was quick to return to her best, winning best 2.5 player at the recent national championships in August, helping Auckland beat Canterbury in the final.

Leslie (3.0 classification), who is also a gold medal-winning Paralympian swimmer, helped the Wheel Blacks qualify for the Tokyo Paralympics for the first time in 12 years. He was due to compete in the pool and wheelchair rugby but, with the games delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the rescheduled event clashed with the birth of his daughter. He opted to stay in Aotearoa. 

However, Leslie is now set to return to the court, and help the Wheel Blacks achieve good results against 12 of the best countries in the world, after a strong national championship where he was awarded the best 3.0 player.

Co-coach Robert Hewitt is thrilled with the squad, which also includes 31-year-old debutant, Canterbury's Ian Simpson.

“Only the toughest, most talented and prepared Para athletes can become Wheel Blacks. We’ve just seen the cream of New Zealand’s wheelchair rugby talent compete at the Wheelchair Rugby National Championships, and it’s fantastic to see the skills from around the country combine into a top-class national squad. New Zealand should be really excited for what they’re going to see in Denmark.”

New Zealand begins its campaign against France on October 11, before games against Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the USA and Germany before playoffs begin on October 14. 

Wheelchair Rugby is a Paralympic sport, with twenty‐six countries competing in international competitions and more than ten others developing national programmes.

Wheelchair rugby is open to athletes with disabilities that include at least some loss of function in at least three limbs. Most players have spinal cord injuries but players can also qualify through multiple amputations, neurological disorders or other medical conditions. Every player is classified based on disability and undergoes a functional skills test. They are then given a points value that ranges from 0.5 to 3.5. The four players on the court at any one time can not exceed eight points. However, for each female player on the court, the team is allowed 0.5 points above eight.