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The Sureway Wollongong Roller Hawks have returned to the court for the first time in three months as Corinavirus restrictions ease across the state with players visibly excited to be back on court. 


“It feels amazing to be back to be honest, it’s been so long since we were last on the court together, it’s good to get out there and dust off some cobwebs and socialise as well.” says 2019 Finals MVP Shawn Russell.


“In lockdown we couldn’t really do too much because we rely on being in wheelchairs it’s really hard to get that cross training in.”

Roller Hawks Return

The team returned to the practice court after restrictions for indoor sport were lifted on July 1; for Roller Hawks captain Brett Stibners, it was the first time he’d hit the court with his teammates in ten months. 


“It feels amazing to be back on court tonight, tomorrow I’m probably going to be sore but it’s just really good to be able to get out and do something after being locked up for so long.” says Stibners.


“I haven’t seen a lot of these guys for a long time either living overseas and then not being able to catch up when I got back.”


Stibners had to abort his season in Spain playing for BSR Valladolid as Coronavirus spread around the country forcing borders to close. He says dealing with the pandemic here has been much easier than in Spain.


“We were living in a small apartment and you weren’t allowed to leave. The only reason you were allowed to leave was to get food. Kids weren’t allowed out at all. If you left you could be fined 1500 euros on the spot. And police were roaming the streets.”


Like everyone, the Roller Hawks had their 2020 plans thrown into disarray. The season’s draw was finalised just days before restrictions were imposed, forcing the season to be postponed and the defending champions into social isolation.

Shawn Russell Returns to Training

“I had a little set up in the garage with some straps and some other things like that to help do some shoulder work and just get the shoulders warm and keep it ready to go.” says Russell.


A home and away season for the National Wheelchair Basketball League is unlikely given the logistical and financial challenges of a post-COVID world but there are plans to stage a week long tournament at the end of the year. With no schedule set yet, the training sessions are a chance to just have some fun.


“Obviously there’s no dates confirmed with the national league starting up so I think it’s just take it easy, nice and slow and work our way into some decent sessions and we’ll go from there.” says Russell.


“The wheelchair basketball community is relatively small across Australia and it’s a very social community so it will be good to catch up with everyone. Lockdown affects people differently across all different states and people handle things differently so it will be good to see everyone and get some basketball going.”


Among those at the first training session back was a familiar face now foe, Michael Auprince.


The former Roller Hawk was also forced to return from Europe having moved to Germany at the end of last year’s NWBL season. 


“We’d made it through one of the cups where we got second and after that we got told the Champions League was getting cancelled and so was the rest of the German league so I decided to come home and got back two days before the lockdown started.”


“There was a lot of consultation with my parents and the Aussie coaches. They wanted what was best for me. Myself and my fiance thought that coming back to Australia was probably the best option for me.”

Clay Kelly Attempt

After five years with the Roller Hawks Auprince jumped to the Perth Wheelcats ahead of the 2019 season but Western Australian border closures have stopped him from linking up with his current teammates since returning, prompting him to ask if he could train with his former club.


“I’ve been training with some of these guys for the last couple of weeks at NSWIS (New South Wales Institute of Sport) and we’ve been pushing each other pretty hard and to be back around the Roller Hawks, I know I’m going to be in for a good push.”


Despite his session with the Roller Hawks, the Australian representative has no plans to stay and will suit up for the Wheelcats when the national league gets back up and running.

“I went over there to play a certain role, which is very similar to the role I have in the Australian team, to play big, to play fast, and to use my size to my advantage. I think it was a really good opportunity to go over there and I still think it was the right decision.”