Richmond’s Wheelchair Football team is gearing up for an exciting opening round of the Victorian Wheelchair Football League (VWFL) this Sunday, May 7 at Boroondara Sports Complex.
In 2022 the Tigers had one of the most dominant seasons in the league's history, losing only one match to lead the team to their second premiership in five years.
The VWFL is entering its sixth season in 2023, with wheelchair teams from five AFL clubs: Richmond, Collingwood, St Kilda, Hawthorn and Essendon.
Richmond VWFL Captain Chris Henderson is excited to see where this season will take the Tigers and feels the team is up for the challenge of being defending champions.
"We understand that every week whoever we are up against is going to want to knock us off and we relish that opportunity and that challenge", he said.
"Dimma (Damien Hardwick) said to us a couple of years ago that being hungry but remaining humble is really important. We love the pressure of being the hunted, we love the challenges that can present."
Players to watch this season include Judeland Antony and Tigers vice-captain Miranda Charlton, who have both had a strong pre-season and are ready for the challenge of Sunday's match against Hawthorn.
"We've been training since January, we've been practising and we're really well drilled and I think we're going to go in on Sunday fit and trained and prepared," Henderson said.
The match-up against Hawthorn is shaping up to be a huge game, with the Tigers preparing for anything Hawthorn might throw at them.
"Hawthorn's probably the potential surprise packet of the league," Henderson added.
"They have had a really big transition or changeover inside their playing list. They have been able to draft in a group of Australian Wheelchair Basketballers, under 23s, so we don't really know what they'll bring. They've added some really talented wheelchair athletes, so it'll be a challenge.
"I was talking to the team just this morning around the fact that a champion team beats a team of champions."
The league has this year been split into two competitions, with the VWFL consisting of a primary list of seven players and four extras on a supplementary list.
Added this year is the Community Wheelchair Football League (CWFL), previously known as the Development League, which consists of all other registered players.
Seven players on the primary list will only be eligible for VWFL games, whilst the four that are named as supplementary players can play CWFL or VWFL games.
The primary players for the Tigers this year are captain Chris Henderson, Vincent Naidu, Judeland Antony, Angelo Mavroudis, James Weinert, Mitchell Stretton and Teisha Shadwell.
VWFL coach Matthew Morris, vice-captain Miranda Charlton, Peter Ogunyemi and Chris Kotsanas are the supplementary players.
Richmond will be without Shadwell for at least the first half of the season as she is currently in the US on a college wheelchair basketball scholarship.
The CWFL is an exciting opportunity for new players to become involved in the sport, with the Tigers CWFL team consisting of players from various backgrounds including wheelchair basketball, where players can translate their skills from other codes to have an impact on the game.
In the off-season, Richmond's Community team picked up two players from Hawthorn, John Secombe and Mark Titford.
Henderson believes they will be great additions to the team and looks forward to the chance of potentially promoting them to the senior side during the mid-season draft.
"John is our first ever Indigenous player in the wheelchair side which is really exciting for us. John is also the cousin of Aaron Clark who is formerly the Director of KGI (Korin Gamadji Institute)," he said
"He's going to relish being a part of the Richmond family and we have already seen that in our training and preparation.
"Him and Mark are both going to go from strength to strength so that’s really exciting to have them as part of the team this year."
Ahead of an action-packed season, there are some exciting additions to the VWFL fixture in 2023, with the introduction of regional rounds with some games being played in Bendigo and Torquay.
"Richmond is really honoured to be asked by the AFL to represent in those regional centres", Henderson said.
In Round 2, the league will celebrate the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to the great game as part of the AFL Sir Douglas Nicholls Round and Round 11 will see the community come together to celebrate Pride Round.
Another exciting addition to the sport is the inaugural Wheelchair Auskick program that kicks off this Sunday morning before the Round 1 VWFL games at Boroondara Sports Complex.
The VWFL can draft players from the age of 14, so the Auskick program is a great opportunity for the next generation of wheelchair footballers to become known and learn some skills, or simply have fun and belong to a sport that supports kids with a disability.
Richmond fans who want to support the VWFL team can purchase a Wheelchair Football Membership, with all proceeds going directly to the Club to assist with funding for the expensive equipment required for Wheelchair Football.