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The University of Sydney is teaming up with the NSW Physical Disability Rugby League to conduct a landmark study assessing the physical and psychological benefits for people with physical disabilities participating in team sports.

Physical disability rugby league is a novel combination of touch and tackle football designed to allow men and women with a range of physical disabilities from different age groups to participate.

Lead researcher Dr Che Fornusek, who has also played in the league since 2012, said he’s seen a definite increase in players’ skills and confidence but is interested to know the impact it has on health.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we find the athletes competing in the physical disability rugby league are running almost as much as the players in the NRL, and that has to be good for them,” Dr Fornusek, from the Faculty of Health Sciences, said.

“Historically there have been a lot of barriers to people with disability participating in sport, but it’s vital we encourage more involvement as inactive lifestyles can really exacerbate health problems for people living with disability.

“This research will provide the evidence we need to show that team sports are not just fun and safe for people with disability, but are also having positive impacts on physical and mental health.”

During the pilot study, the athletes will undergo sports performance testing similar to that used in the National Rugby League including in-game monitoring using heart-rate monitors, GPS and accelerometers. The psychological and social benefits of involvement will be accessed via questionnaires.

Dr Fornusek said the involvement of people with a disability in sport has come a long way in the past 20 years but there is still work to be done.

“We are much better at involving people with disability in mainstream sporting competitions at the younger levels, but at about 15 years-of-age kids with disabilities start to drop out as the sport becomes more competitive.

“It’s unfortunate to see that players with a disability are also often sidelined to non-crucial roles in the team.

“The NSW Physical Disability Rugby League gives both adults and children with disabilities the opportunity to learn and stay involved in a game they love.”

Former Chairman and Associate Founder George Tonna said rugby league is one of the most popular sports in NSW, so kids and adults with disability want the opportunity to play the game just like their peers.

“Life is about opportunities and learning for them, and it’s amazing what confidence they gain when given the opportunity to play for their club or their heritage as part of the Combined Indigenous Nations team,” Mr Tonna said.

“We are really excited to be involved with the University of Sydney and look forward to this research promoting our sport.”

President of Sydney University Rugby League Football Club, Chris Kintis said the University’s club has long been committed to fostering an all-inclusive and collegiate sporting environment and he’s keen to see the disability league become more involved.

“I think our teams can learn a lot from each other, and opportunities to train together and contribute to projects such as this are important in promoting greater participation in rugby league,” he said.

Players from the NSW Disability Rugby League trained with the Sydney University Rugby League Football Club on Tuesday night in preparation for the disability leagues’ game day on Sunday, July 12, when the NSW All Stars Team will take on the Combined Indigenous Nations at 10am at Redfern Oval.

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