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Captain Tom Halliwell described England’s Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup triumph as “the best feeling in the world” after they came from behind to beat France 28-24 in the final.
France took the lead through Nicolas Clausells’ penalty, and tries from Lionel Alazard and Mostefa Abassi twice gave the reigning champions an eight-point advantage.
England battled back on both occasions, with Halliwell and Jack Brown wheeling over, yet France held a narrow cushion at the half-time hooter.
The hosts came flying out the traps in the second half and turned the game on its head with tries from Lewis King and Brown, but Gilles Clausells hit back for Les Bleus before penalties from both sides made the game all square.
However, player of the match Halliwell produced a try three minutes from time to land the World Cup for England in front of a record crowd of 4,526 at Manchester Central.
Halliwell hailed the spirit of his England team-mates after securing the trophy.
He told a press conference: “It’s probably the best feeling in the world, lifting it (the trophy) with the players we have got and the staff.
“We have been working so hard for the past five years to be able to get to this point and it’s so good knowing that all that hard work has paid off.
“This is groundbreaking to be honest. I think it’s the first World Cup of this kind and shown what rugby league is all about.”
Leeds Rhinos legend Rob Burrow took to social media to applaud the England team and said he felt “honoured” to be considered a role model by double try-scorer Halliwell.
Halliwell responded: “Has anyone got tissues?
“My try sort of recreated his from the Grand Final (in 2011), except his was from 40 out.
“Those are such kind words, but I cannot rest now. I have still got to work hard and this is just the beginning for rugby league and I am happy to be a part of it and very grateful to be a part of this sport.”
France had few congratulations for their English counterparts, with coach Sylvain Crismanovich raising concerns about the role of non-disabled players in the sport, echoing similar comments he had made in the build-up.
“The game was too physical,” he said.
“I think we are risking that we are developing the game for able-bodied athletes only and giving them the preference to be involved in the game.
“Perhaps I am responsible for France’s defeat tonight that I opted to play three or four paraplegic athletes tonight where England did not select any.
“A stand-out example of this was the incredible try that Jack Brown scored at the end of the first half and his dive, and we simply cannot award tries like this because it would not be possible for a paraplegic athlete to utilise his body in the same way and is far too dangerous.”