A generation in the making, Steelers claim ultimate prize

AUSTRALIA has won its first ever gold medal in the blue ribbon Paralympic sport of wheelchair rugby, emphatically defeating Canada in the gold medal play-off to complete a near-flawless tournament.

It was an emotional finale for the closely-knit and proud Steelers team, who beat the Canadians 66-51 and - as they had set out to do at the start of the competition - ensured they won every quarter of every match they played in London.

The team was presented its reward by Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, before heading to the Closing Ceremony and, later, enjoying their success with family, friends and teammates.

The win was the perfect end point for the disappointment of Beijing, where the team was beaten in the final by the United States. At London, Australia did not face the Americans as the Canadians beat them in the semi final. Nevertheless, the red-hot form of the Steelers left no one in doubt that there was no team in the world that could have prevented them from claiming the sport's ultimate prize.
The win was a credit to the Australian Paralympic Committee, the team's coaches and staff and, of course, a wonderful group of friends who came together to form an all-conquering team.

Brad Dubberley, who retired from playing in 2006 to become Steelers coach, described the win as "unbelievable".

"I've been playing the game since '95 and it's the first time I've reached the pinnacle like this," the much-loved and respected coach said.

"To have a team that we have and to come in and win every single quarter of every game and play every player in every game is a huge result for the whole team. It's a great team win this whole game and I'm just so proud of the whole team."

Though the scoreline was emphatic against Canada - and every match the all-conquering Australians played - Dubberley said their gold medal play-off opponents put up a strong fight and the Australians could never take their foot off the pedal.

"Every opponent we've played here this week regardless of scores they are such strong teams," he said.

"Canada's a phenomenal team in their own right and got a bright future with players like Zac [Madell] going around. I'm so thankful the athletes stuck with the plan and got the result we were after"

It's been a long time coming, too, for captain Ryan Scott, the 0.5 warrior who won silver at Beijing.

"You dream of being in this position for years but it’s just a pleasure to be a part of it," he said.

"Especially Brad Dubberley our coach, Naz Erdem and Ryley Batt. I’ve played with those guys for over 10 years now and it’s just so great to be a part of it with those three guys. It's just it’s everything to us. We’ve worked so hard and had so many disappointing times so to finally get that medal is just amazing."

Scott praised Dubberley and the coaching staff, saying: "[Dubberley] comes up with a game plan for a reason. He believes in us and that we can do it. When we go out there we have to believe that he believes in us so if we back his game plan 100 percent and do everything as a team, we know that we will come out with an end result.

"A lot of teams say that defence wins games but for us it’s our offence. We know we will get a turnover, we know we can get two or three turnovers in a game, but if we score every goal we know we will win."

He said the early lead against Canada was no coincidence.

"We’ve done that every game that we’ve played," he said. "We spoke about getting that early lead.  

We’ve also spoken about if we don’t get that early lead not to worry about it and not to stress and to stick to the game plan."

Scott, who was left a quadriplegic following a car accident, dedicated his gold medal to his friends and family, especially his father.

"It's not just my gold medal," he said. "This is for my dad and for all the times that he’s supported me."

Star player Ryley Batt called it "third time lucky", after he competed at Athens as a 15-year-old and won silver in Beijing.

"We went into Beijing and aimed for a medal and I was stoked with a silver medal," he said. "But you can only go one better than silver and that's a gold. I know I've trained so hard the last four years and so has the rest of the team to get to this point and it's finally paid off.

"We can all breathe a sigh of relief and I'll probably sleep well tonight because I haven't slept for the last five nights."

When reminded that he scored 37 of the team's goals in the final, Batt said: "It's a team sport, it's fantastic to score goals but the work of the boys out there who are screening for me, low pointers out there, mid pointers, high pointers - they've done a fantastic job out there on the court. They allow me to look good on the court when they probably do all the work for me."

Batt said he expected the emotion of the moment to hit when he saw his family.

"I didn't want to celebrate too early," he said. "By half time I knew we had it, but [still] had to get the motivation to keep playing when you know you had a gold medal around your neck."

Batt, the master, had kind words for the apprentice, Zac Madell of Canada, who is shaping as a star of the future.

"He's something special and one to watch in the future and it was definitely our goal to stop him," Batt said.

"I was 19 in Beijing and 15 in Athens and I know how he feels and how hard it is to be that young and come out and play in front of a field like that and he's done a fantastic job. They beat the US in the semis and he had a corker of a game so congrats to him."

Veteran player Nazim Erdem said the team's great start to the match, in which they streaked to an 18-11 quarter time lead, was a vital stepping stone for the victory.

"It's less pressure on yourself and the opposition has all the pressure on them," he said. "They're trying to do things that you can't anticipate to change the score over to get some turnovers so it's a great relief."

Erdem, 42, became a quadriplegic aged 20 after diving off a pier into shallow water in an effort to impress some watching girls. Erdem, who was born in Turkey, won silver in Sydney and Beijing.

He was beaming after the win, saying: "One of the major goals that we had was to win each quarter and we did that. We only just did that in the last second of that game. We were even ... and then Greg Smith scored that last point right on the line right on the buzzer. Can't wish for anything else it's fantastic."

Erdem said he had no intentions of retiring.

"I want to keep going for sure," he said. "I'm really happy with the way I performed with the team out there. As long as I can keep a spot in the team I'm there."

The newest member of the team, Chris Bond - Batt's 3.5 partner in crime - said the moment was the culmination of a long and emotional journey.

"Seven years ago I was in hospital fighting for my life and here I am representing my country," Bond said.

"A couple of years ago decided to get back into sport. I always loved sport. I met the right people, worked my arse off, made the team and just to be at the Paralympics is amazing. Then to come out on top with such a strong team and team performance, I'm just over the moon. I couldn't have asked for a better Paralympics. We've set the bench mark and we smashed the world."

Bond is set for a long and prosperous career with the Steelers. He said he had learnt so much from Batt and the other teammates and was just happy he could be an asset for the team.

"I've quit everything in my life to do this," he said. "I've sacrificed everything and moved states. I eat, sleep and walk rugby. I've done everything I can to learn what I can about the game and develop."
Bond believes the win could signal a huge boost for wheelchair rugby in Australia.

"In the last couple of years we've been lucky to pick up a few guys to develop our sport and hopefully still encourage a few more young guys who've done it tough, hurt themselves or looking for an outlet," he said.

"I remember looking at Beijing and looking at Ryley and thinking I'm a bit like that and maybe I could be in this team one day. So maybe they can get inspired by our performance for sure."

By David Sygall

Posted 09/09/2012