Ingleburn disabled sport pioneer receives great honour

Paving the way: George Tonna and Billy Bussell are pioneers of Physical Disability Rugby League. Picture: Chris Lane
Paving the way: George Tonna and Billy Bussell are pioneers of Physical Disability Rugby League. Picture: Chris Lane

When George Tonna developed a modified brand of rugby league 10 years ago, he never expected his sport would reach a global audience.

But the support for Physical Disability Rugby League has grown and grown over the past decade and will again reach an international audience next month.

The Ingleburn resident has again been selected to represent Australia in the Emerging Nations Rugby League World Cup, alongside Minto’s Billy Bussell.

Both Mr Tonna and Mr Bussell have cerebral palsy.

Mr Tonna said it was amazing to see the sport he loves become more inclusive.

“It was just a dream I had ten years ago,” he said. “I wanted people with a disability to be able to play rugby league.

“Now the game will be live-streamed across the world, in places like Greece and Hungary and other countries take part in the world cup.”

Mr Tonna’s efforts have spawned five physical disability teams – Wests Tigers, Newtown Jets, Sydney Roosters, Manly Sea Eagles and South Sydney Rabbitohs – an Australia side, a New Zealand side and more.

This year also marked the first iteration of the Physical Disability All-Stars game, which saw a legend of the NRL playing alongside those in the modified game.

“That was great, we had Andrew Johns as one of the able-bodied players playing with us,” Mr Tonna said.

“Not everyone gets to play alongside an Immortal.”

Mr Tonna’s work bridging the gap between the rugby league and the disabled community has not only caught the eye of NRL fans, but also the Australian of the Year committee.

“I was nominated in the Local Hero category for the NSW Australian of the Year awards,” Mr Tonna said.

“I received an email from the federal government Cabinet to say I had been selected.

“It’s been 10 years to get to this stage, so it’s really great to have this recognition.”

Mr Tonna will find out if his nomination was successful in mid-November.

The winger said the sport could not have achieved the level of success it had without the dedicated community of players, volunteers and sponsors including Afford, Nova Employment and KARI.

Details: nswpdrl.com.au.

Not everyone gets to play alongside an Immortal.

George Tonna, Physical Disability Rugby League founder