Skip to content

England vs France: Leeds Rhinos trio head charge for Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup final rematch

England's World Cup-winning wheelchair team return to action on Sunday for the first time since beating France 28-24 in last year's final in Manchester; Tom Coyd's team take on their old rivals at the First Direct Arena in Leeds (3.15pm) before heading out to Marseille later this month

Picture by Alex Whitehead/ - 25/10/2023 - Rugby League - England Wheelchair RL - First Direct Arena, Leeds, England - (from left) Josh Butler, Tom Halliwell, Nathan Collins and Wayne Boardman pictured to preview the match against France next month.

Sunday will mark 352 days since England claimed Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup glory against France on that memorable night in Manchester. For three of the team, the rematch at Leeds' First Direct Arena takes on an extra meaning though.

England captain Tom Halliwell, fellow World Cup-winner Nathan Collins and the recalled Josh Butler all played for Leeds Rhinos in the Betfred Wheelchair Super League and will now be pulling on the national team shirt in the city as well.

It is a big weekend for England as they return to action for the first time since that 28-24 win over France, with their preparations including a training camp at the national football team's St George's Park headquarters, and head coach Tom Coyd knows what it means to the Rhinos trio in particular.

"I know Josh, Tom Halliwell and Nathan Collins are especially excited to be playing at the First Direct Arena in Leeds, and looking forward to a lot of Rhinos support," Coyd said.

"It's a measure of the quality of Josh Butler's performances this season, and his contribution to all our camps this year up to and including St George's Park, that he has earned a place in our team."

Butler, a cousin of Halliwell, missed out on selection for last year's World Cup, but enjoyed an impressive season in the Wheelchair Super League, helping Leeds win the League Leaders' Shield and reach the Grand Final, which saw him pick up the competition's young player of the year award.

Although still just 21, he has been playing wheelchair rugby league for over a decade after having to give up the running game due to eyesight problems, and Rhinos head coach James Simpson is impressed with the progress Butler has made over the past 12 months.

Also See:

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Highlights from the 2023 Wheelchair Super League Grand Final between Wigan Warriors and Leeds Rhinos

"He didn't get selected to play in the World Cup and that was a huge fire which was set inside him," Simpson said.

"Over the off-season, he's been in the gym, he's been training, he's always tinkering with his chair for marginal gains, and always working hard.

"His vision of the game has changed and it's almost like he has just switched. It's like an overnight success which took a year, but something in him has changed and that has absolutely changed how he does things on and off the pitch.

"What you'll see from Josh is line-breaks, support runs, offloading - things he didn't do a year ago. When you see it for the first time you might think it has always been Josh, but this is a new version of Josh."

Picture by Allan McKenzie/ - 29/10/2023 - Rugby League - England Wheelchair RL Media Day, St George's Park, Burton-upon-Trent, England - Sebastien Bechara.
Image: England's preparations for the Tests against France included a camp at St George's Park

Defeat to England at a packed, raucous Manchester Central last November saw France relinquish the grip they had held on the Wheelchair World Cup since 2013 and the two-time champions are already looking to the next global gathering in 2026.

However, the visitors are adamant avenging that loss is not on their minds and France joint-head coach Laurent Dupuy insists the pressure is all on England heading into this rematch.

"Now the pressure is on the shoulders of our opponents, we are underdogs," Dupuy said. "We laid the foundations during the September and October [training camps], we must now implement it.

"It is difficult to deny that this meeting will not have a particular flavour for many of the [players], but the mistake would be to fall into the trap of revenge. You have to know how to move on and move forward."

Picture by Will Palmer/ - 18/11/2022 - Rugby League - Rugby League World Cup 2021 - Wheelchair Final - France v England - Manchester Central, Manchester, England - Tom Halliwell (C) of England lifts the 2021 Rugby League World Cup Trophy after victory over France in the final.
Image: England beat France in last year's World Cup final

Sunday's showdown in Leeds is the first of two matches between England and France this month, with the world champions then travelling to Marseille on Saturday November 25.

Coyd is in no doubt they will face a stern examination from their fiercest rivals in both games, but cannot wait to see his team show what they can do as they return to the pitch for the first time this year.

"We're expecting a huge test from France, both in this game and then when we head to Marseille later in November," Coyd said.

"It's exciting for all of us to be getting back into action for the first time since the World Cup, and we're looking forward to a historic occasion."

England vs France matchday squads

England: Tom Halliwell (Leeds Rhinos, captain), Sebastien Bechara (Catalans Dragons), Jack Brown (North Queensland Cowboys), Josh Butler, Nathan Collins (both Leeds Rhinos), Joe Coyd (London Roosters), Rob Hawkins (Halifax Panthers), Lewis King (London Roosters). Ninth player: Wayne Boardman (Halifax Panthers).

France: Lionel Alazard (Montauban), Jeremy Bourson, Damien Dore (both Catalans Dragons), Florian Guttadoro (Avignon), Julien Penella (Aingirak Euskadi XIII), Arno Vargas (Catalans Dragons), Yann Verdi, Adrien Zittel (both Avignon). Ninth player: Guillaume Mautz (Avignon).

Around Sky