Story transcripts

Murderball

Sunday, October 23, 2005
Reporter: Tara Brown
Producer: Stephen Taylor, Candice Talberg

Trust us, these Aussie champions are the toughest, most dangerous sportsmen you're ever likely to see.

They hit hard, they play fast, they know no fear. Officially, the game is wheelchair rugby. Unofficially, they call it murderball. And that just about sums it up.

There's certainly no shortage of killer instinct when these guys get going. But deep down, there's more to murderball than just the biffo. Each and every one of these men has a hell of a story to tell. A word of warning though, don't get in their way.

Transcript

TARA BROWN: Sleepy Christchurch doesn't know what's hit it. Arch rivals Australia and New Zealand are going head to head. It's called murderball. And it certainly looks like they're trying to kill each other. When you go in to hit someone, you look like you really want to hit them.

RYLEY BATT: Yeah, well, the Kiwis, you know, have you to hit them. You want to give them something back.

TARA BROWN: It's just like a battle between the All Blacks and the Wallabies. For both teams, national pride is on the line. In murderball, the rules are simple — there aren't many. Four players a side at any one time trying to score points by crossing the line with the ball. There's no tackling, but there's plenty of tactics, plenty of crashes and plenty of aggression. Is there an element of you guys trying to prove yourselves? "We might be in wheelchairs, but we're not wimps?"

STEVE PORTER: I don't think so. Like, my approach, to this is this: We play sport in chairs because we have to, and we belt people when we do it. It's all good.

ANNE PORTER: You're too fast for us.

TARA BROWN: Off the court, 35-year-old Steve Porter is a gentle family man. He has a wife, Anne, and two young sons. As a teenager, he threw himself into martial arts and water skiing. Then at 17, the unthinkable and the unlucky — while carrying office equipment that weighed less than 25kg, he burst a blood vessel in his spine. Within an hour he was a quadriplegic.

STEVE PORTER: The night before, I was at the beach with my mates throwing balls around. It was in February, it was hot. And then to go from that into a hospital, I certainly remember thinking that, you know, I might be better off if I'd just died, basically.

TARA BROWN: With time, Steve's spirit for life returned. He realised being a quad didn't mean he couldn't play sport.

STEVE PORTER: George, get this ball!

TARA BROWN: A game as physical as murderball requires punishing training, and these guys obviously get a kick out of punishing each other. It's how they've earned a reputation as the toughest team in the world. They're from all over Australia and they've been brought together by a competitive nature and tragedy.

BRAD DUBBERLEY: I was bush walking with some mates when I was 12, I slipped and fell down a 50m cliff headfirst into the creek, laying there in the water trying to push myself up to breathe because I was face-first in the water, but obviously not being able to move, just hang onto my breath until the boys could help.

TARA BROWN: At 24, Brad Dubberley is considered the best murderballer in the world.

BRAD DUBBERLEY: Go Steve, go! Feel the kick!

TARA BROWN: Out with a shoulder injury, this is his first go as assistant coach of the national team. I'd imagine that you know what damage you can do to yourself, you know how fragile we are as human beings.

BRAD DUBBERLEY: Yeah, exactly. I mean, you can't have anything worse dealt to you, you know? You've sort of copped it. "Oh, well, what's the worst I can do — break my neck again?"

TARA BROWN: Their experiences are a reminder of how quickly life can change and how any of us could so easily be in their position. What's it like coming back here?

RYAN SCOTT: It is really hard to say, but it's kind of strange being at a place where ... well, this is the last place I ever walked.

TARA BROWN: Now 23, Ryan's story is that of too many teenagers. He was 16, on his way to the party, a passenger in a car going too fast on a wet road.

RYAN SCOTT: As we lost control we rolled over, we hit a tree and I was crushed by the tree in the back.

TARA BROWN: What happened to the other people in the car?

RYAN SCOTT: Um, the guy I was sitting next to in the back broke his jaw, the driver cracked his sternum and my other mate who just had bruising.

GRANT BOXALL: Had a surfing accident about five years ago. I basically just took a wave that was too big and I come off my board and hit my head, headfirst on a reef and dislocated a bone in my neck.

TARA BROWN: Grant Boxall's life as a quad means he's restricted to a chair, but that's about it. He and girlfriend Naomi are planning to move on the United States to play wheelchair rugby there.

GRANT BOXALL: I embrace my disability and deal with it basically. You wake up every day and the wheelchair's still going to be there. You either accept that fact and move on with life or you feel sorry for yourself and not get out of bed and basically not live a life.

TARA BROWN: To be eligible to play murderball, you have to be a quadriplegic or have significant impairment in your arms and legs.

CARMERON CARR: I was at a 21st party and just had a five-minute drive home and I was in the back seat and the driver fell asleep, And probably crashed the car maybe 100m or so from the driveway of where we were going.

TARA BROWN: As rotten luck would have it, Cameron Carr broke his neck one week before he was to join the Sydney City Roosters as a rugby league professional. That was nine years ago, but it took him more than five years to get over the trauma and play sport again. Have you come to terms with your accident now?

CAMERON CARR: Um ... I still don't like being in the chair, but I think now being involved with rugby, it gives you a lot more purpose, or more goals to achieve.

TARA BROWN: High priority is beating the Kiwis, or the 'Wheel Blacks', as they call themselves. The teams fight it out over five games in four days.

NZ COACH: Patience, patience, yeah.

TARA BROWN: The New Zealanders are favourites, cocky because they're the current world champions. Australia is ranked only fifth and game one doesn't go well. Even though they score some big and bloody hits ... they lose.

BRAD DUBBERLEY: Just keep our heads up. Get a good night's sleep and just be more amped to play tomorrow, you know? Don't be so relaxed.

ALL: Australia!

TARA BROWN: The next two matches are much better for the Australians — sweet but nail-biting wins over the increasingly rattled champions. It's now two games to one in our favour and our turn to crow. How do you think the New Zealanders are feeling tonight?

STEVE PORTER: They'd be hurting, you know. They'd be hurting.

TARA BROWN: The fact that it was the Australians who beat you, is there an added element there of distaste?

NZ COACH: Is the Pope Catholic? I mean, we could play Aussies at tiddlywinks and tooth and nail. Yeah, of course it is, it hurts. I don't like losing to Aussies, I hate losing to Aussies.

TARA BROWN: Australia's victories come in no small part thanks to the brutish power of our number three.

RYLEY BATT: I was born with no legs and I had fingers and they were joined together just like one finger and they were joined together and I had to get two operations to cut down there and cut down there.

TARA BROWN: Nothing can slow Ryley down. And off the court, despite his tender age — he's 16 — he's just one of the lads. Well, he certainly talks the talk. Do you have a girlfriend?

RYLEY BATT: No, I don't at the moment, just go out to parties and get different chicks sometimes.

TARA BROWN: Yeah?

RYLEY BATT: Not often. Yeah.

TARA BROWN: Ryley, are you talking it up?

RYLEY BATT: Nah!

TARA BROWN: Game four is the closest of the tournament. If we win this, we win the series. At full-time, there's just one point in it. But it's victory to the Kiwis. Now it's 2-2 with one match to go. Did that feel good?

NZ COACH: Yeah, wins always feel good and wins over Australia feel even better.

BRAD DUBBERLEY: Just because you're in a chair doesn't mean you can't go out, you can't do sport, you can't do anything, you know? For our murderballers, as important as their sport is, reassuring those facing up to life with paralysis has greater value.

MALE PATIENT 1: I crashed my BMX, broke T4 and T5 in my back, broke a rib, punctured my lung and broke my sternum as well.

TARA BROWN: Brad Dubberley is a frequent visitor to spinal units like this one at Sydney's Prince of Wales Hospital.

FEMALE PATIENT: I've been snow boarding for nine years and I was riding the rails in the snowboard park and landed on my butt and C4, 5 and 6. Quad.

MALE PATIENT 2: I had a big night out, ended up in hospital with pneumonia and at some point while I was in ICU, my blood pressure dropped too low and I suffered lesions in the spinal column.

TARA BROWN: Brad's message is that there is life after spinal injury.

BRAD DUBBERLEY: Don't let the chair, you know, stop you from doing anything.

TARA BROWN: That tragedy can be turned into triumph. It's a theme explored in the recently released documentary Murderball.

US COACH: USA, learn a new way!

TARA BROWN: The film follows the lives of those dedicated to the sport, confronting taboo and delicate areas, including sex.

US PLAYER: The first full-on sex after being in a wheelchair was a very great moment of my life, just knowing I could still go out one night, meet a girl and get lucky. Things that you don't think are possible any more.

TARA BROWN: For Steve Porter, the documentary showed the world that people in wheelchairs are, at the end of the day, just people. And no, you shouldn't be wondering, because the evidence, Nicholas and Lachlan, is right there. But for the record…

STEVE PORTER: The bits that matter ... they still work, so yeah.

TARA BROWN: So to the final battle. It all comes down to this. It's tough, it's furious, but it's not Australia's day. The Kiwis win the cup and the bragging rights.

NZ COACH: Yeah, yeah, I expected to win.

TARA BROWN: You know, the Australians told me you were a very smug winning team.

NZ COACH: We like to think we're a bit humble in victory.

TARA BROWN: Really?

NZ COACH: Yeah.

TARA BROWN: You're not doing a good job of it.

NZ COACH: Oh bugger, never mind.

STEVE PORTER: It's probably not a bad thing in some respects to lose here because it just makes you a little bit more hungry, but man, we wanted to beat those bastards, I tell you. It hurts. It hurts bad. And yeah, they are smart arses.
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