TOM Halliwell had some answering to do when he was notified of his honour – no, he was not in trouble!
The England captain who scored the try that won the Wheelchair World Cup has received an OBE in the King’s Birthday List.
Team-mates James Simpson and Seb Bechara, along with coach Tom Coyd, have been given MBEs for their part in the glory and putting the sport on a new pedestal.
But Leeds star Halliwell admitted there were suspicions when the official letter dropped through his door.
He said: “I was out coaching when it arrived, so all my family saw it and they were like, ‘What have you been doing Tom? Are you in trouble? What’s this?’
“It was in the back of my mind all day and when I got home I opened it. I was in complete shock.
“I had no idea that something like that could happen to me. I’m just a lad from Leeds.
“This is the cherry on top of the cake. We did all we wanted to do – we won the World Cup and created a new platform for wheelchair rugby league.”
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Pal and team-mate Simpson, who lost both his legs while serving as a soldier in Afghanistan, delivered the news he had known since May 10 to his parents yesterday.
And the recognition – and emotion – just showed the impact they have made.
He said, believing his honour is a lot to do with his ambassadorial work for the tournament: “There were only two or three honours given out before in the game’s history, today there are four. That shows the level and stage the game’s now on.
“I only told my family yesterday and there was a little wobble in my mum and dad’s voice. After everything that happened 14 years ago, getting this MBE is nice.
“I gave so much in being an ambassador. I worked really hard talking about wheelchair rugby league around the country so the World Cup had the impact it did.”
And Bechara, who lost a leg in a motorbike accident and who lives in France – where he is a professional trumpeter, added: “Who would have thought when I was lying in hospital after my accident that I would one day get an MBE?
“I certainly never would have thought it could be possible. Everything that happened last year with the World Cup, and now this – it’s absolutely incredible.”
Ironically, rugby league is toasting the joy of six after half a dozen from the game received honours.
As well as the four wheelchair heroes, Jon Dutton – who ran last year’s tournaments – has been awarded an OBE.
And Rugby Football League vice-president Sue Taylor is the recipient of an MBE, leading to praise from chairman Simon Johnson.
He said: “We are delighted by this recognition of the most inclusive World Cup in the sport’s history, and of the thrilling success of our England Wheelchair team.
“Jon and his organising team worked tirelessly to deliver a magnificent tournament, overcoming numerous challenges – most notably the Covid-19 pandemic which led to the 12-month postponement until 2022.
“Congratulations also to Sue, the ultimate unsung hero, having devoted countless hours to the amateur game in Huddersfield and through the British Amateur Rugby League Association.”