By Tom Degun
April 20 - Australian wheelchair rugby head Coach Brad Dubberley (pictured) has declared this month’s International Four Nations tournament in Sydney a must-win event as his side steps up their preparations for the World Championships later this year.
The Four Nations tournament, which will be staged by the Australian Paralympic Committee, is set to be held at Sydney Olympic Park from April 28 until May 2 and will see the hosts take on against three of best wheelchair rugby teams in the world with New Zealand, Great Britain and Canada all ranked in the world’s top 10.
The tournament will play a critical role in determining the make-up of Australia’s squad for the World Championships in Vancouver in September as well as the London 2012 Games which are now just over two years away.
The Australian side competing in the Four Nations is set to feature a variety of promising youngsters that Dubberley claims can cement their places in the World Championship squad with strong performances in Sydney.
He said: "The new guys bring an energy and excitement to the team which is great and they are very eager to get some more international experience under their belts before the World Championships.
"This is a chance to really develop the team as a whole and work on our combinations.
"It’s a new-look squad that the experienced players need to adjust to in order to compliment the work of the new athletes"
The tournament will present rising stars Josh Hose, Antonio Vecchio and Jason Lees with the chance to play international wheelchair rugby on home soil for the very first time.
The trio all made their debuts for Australia during last year’s Asia Oceania Championships in which Australia took the gold medal, thus ensuring World Championship qualification in the process.
The Four Nations tournament though, represents a step up in class for Australia and Dubberley is taking nothing for granted despite his side - who won silver at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics after losing to the United States in the final - being labelled as favourites.
Dubberley said: "To line up against such quality teams in front of our home crowd is going to be a great experience for everyone and I think the new guys are more than ready to match up against their opponents.
"We hope that the people of Sydney get right behind us and come out to Sydney Olympic Park throughout the tournament to support our team."
Canada, who secured bronze at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games, are touted as Australia’s biggest threat at the tournament while Great Britain are the lowest ranked of the teams competing.
Dubberley though, believes New Zealand could be the surprise package of the tournament
He said: "New Zealand should not be overlooked either, they have some great players."
Beginning on Wednesday (April 28), each team will play each other twice - four games per day - over the course of the five day tournament.
This round-robin format will be followed by the semi-finals on May 1 and finals on May 2.
More than 2000 school students from 48 schools across New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory will attend the event while members of the public are also being encouraged to attend.
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