The first wheelchair rugby league team in Essex has reached the Wheelchair League this year at ‘Championship’ level in just over a year from its first session in Brentwood.

The Brentwood Eels wheelchair rugby club is helping members rediscover their love of team sports by training regularly at the Brentwood Centre to improve their confidence in wheelchairs.

“I really look forward to playing competitively now we’ve entered the League,” player Mark Pengelly said. “Playing rugby has made me realise just how much I’ve missed being part of a sports team.  

“We have a great squad of superstars that I enjoy spending my Monday evenings with them.

“The attitude and spirit everyone has is that little bit different. Being in a group with disabilities is just great, likeminded people in a non-judgmental atmosphere.

“It doesn’t matter who has what condition as we don’t even discuss this. It’s just about playing the game.”

The club, part of Brentwood Eels Rugby League Club, was set up in 2022 by lead coach and chairman Anthony Sherwood and wheelchair lead Ryan Coombes.

Ryan said: “We are passionate about keeping wheelchair rugby training free to prevent financial hardship stopping engagement.

“There are also aspects beyond having an indoor space when considering the venue for wheelchair training, from step-free access to the supportive staff at this centre.”

The club has added 13 new members less than a year after Ryan set it up. He and co-founder Anthony are achieving their goal of helping people to improve their physical and mental wellbeing, regardless of their ability.

Anthony said: “Team members are encouraged to be involved in training and take note of their own growth during our two-hour sessions. This reinforces their positive mindset.”

The wheelchair club trains every Monday at Brentwood Council’s leisure centre in Doddinghurst Road, Pilgrims Hatch, managed by Everyone Active contractors.

Shaun Beagle, area contract manager for Everyone Active, said: “Eels Wheelchair club competing in their first fixture less than a year before their establishment is a monumental success that helps promote inclusive physical and mental wellness in Brentwood.”

The centre’s location with free disabled parking means that those near and far can attend a place where they feel comfortable, safe and free.