12 Nov 2022
Clark hails Australia's 'collective voice' ahead of France test
The Wheelaroos are ready for battle with the holders
By Milly McEvoy
It may be as simple as celebrating their performance with a clink of their Pepsi bottles before beginning their press conference – but Australia are building something special.
Head coach Brett Clark was quick to send back Bayley McKenna to retrieve his empty bottle which made sure the young flyer remained grounded after a player of the match performance against Ireland.
But this is no strict dictatorship, this is a team rooted in respect and togetherness, that focuses on putting the game above themselves.
And it is a team that has made it to the World Cup semi-finals for the third time in a row, where they will now take on holders France on Sunday.
“Our team culture is a combined effort,” Clark said. “We've got a heap of personalities, there's a lot of ego in any sporting team, that's how it works.
“It's about embracing that but also letting them have their voice. Yes, we have a leadership team. Yes, we have a captain and vice-captain, but everyone's got a collective voice.
“Everyone can have conversations. At camp number two before this World Cup, we had a session with the team, and we worked out our mission and our values and what we wanted to do.
“We wanted to be the team that actually elevated inclusive sport and showed that to the world and I think we're doing that.”
England and Australia set the World Cup alight as they squared off in their opening group game.
The hosts may have emerged victorious, but rugby league was the winner.
So were the thousands of people who tuned in and who are now spreading the word as the sport enjoys unprecedented engagement on social media.
The Wheelaroos’ place in the last four was cemented with wins over Ireland and Spain and they will now take on France as they look to reach the final for the first time since 2008.
But Clark knows there is more to it than that.
Four teams remain in the wheelchair Rugby League World Cup!
Drop a flag emoji of which one you're supporting ? #RLWC2021 | @England_RL @FFRXIII @wheelaroos @WalesRugbyL pic.twitter.com/sn6ttg8B7O
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) November 10, 2022
He added: “I think our values are in embracing everybody and having conversations regardless of where they fit: if they're a player, if they're a referee, if they're a journalist.
“That is the sport. It's not just what happens on the field, it is everything that happens off the field. It’s when we're in our hotel rooms, having conversations.
“It's trying to not think that we're bigger than what we are because we're not, we are all human.
“Players and coaches alike, we have flaws and it's embracing those.”
Crucially, this grand view is shared by Clark’s players, with James Hill, the star performer against Spain, explaining how what they do on the pitch can change lives off it.
He said: “We're not bigger than the game, we are ambassadors of the sport and of inclusion.
“Between our own social circles, between the 3,500 people that are coming along to every game that may or may not have been impacted or had an impact in a disability sport or wheelchair-based sport.
“This is opening perspectives and ideologies to wheelchair-based sports and disability alike that they may never experienced before.”
Australia face their toughest test yest against France, whose coach Sylvain Crismanovich believes their campaign is going exactly to plan.
Before the tournament started, Crismanovich turned fortune teller and predicted his side would face Australia and England in the knockout stages.
He has laid down a marker to England to set up a rematch of the 2017 final, with France supremely confident of advancing to the showpiece next Friday.
“Coming into the World Cup, France’s aim was to maintain the title,” he said. “We knew in advance that the two nations we would have to defeat in the knockout stages would be England and Australia.
“It was just a case of which came first or second depending on how they did in the group stages.
“Now we know the order, we know which are the two next games to win. We think it will be an England-France final.”
Crismanovich may have given out his final predictions with a smile but it could provide ammunition to Australia.
The Wheelaroos were dominant against Spain in their final group game with the two sides squaring off for a place in the knockout stages.
Their 52-32 win over Los Toros came after Spain had laid out their intentions to meet two-time champions France in the semi-finals.
Spain ultimately fell short but France will be buoyed by an 100 per cent record in the group stages and the knowledge that they defeated Australia 102-22 the last time the teams met in 2017.
And while Crismanovich may be looking ahead to an England final, against Australia he is only focusing on his team.
He added: “We just want to remain focused on our group, our inner circle and on the performance we can deliver on the pitch.
“We are concentrated on the aim to go to the end of this World Cup.”
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets