Participants had been waiting patiently for LDSL festivals to return in line with the return to play policy, due to Covid-19 restrictions, but faces were lit up from the moment the first whistle went.
In conjunction with the RFL and Community Integrated Care, the event invited seven teams to compete in a round-robin tournament that concluded with awards and photographs for special performances. The travelling teams included Featherstone Rovers, Wakefield Trinity, Leeds Rhinos, York City Knights, Hull FC and Hull KR.
Mat Lancaster, Head of Operations at Castleford Tigers Foundation said: “To be able to offer players with learning disabilities the opportunity to play Rugby League in a festival format again is great.
“Many participants took part in their first LDSL festival, while others scored their first try or built upon existing skills. It is fantastic that Rugby League meets the diverse requirements of all.”
Participants’ enjoyment is at the forefront of everything Learning Disability Rugby League do, and Hull KR participant Sebastian was thrilled to be a part of the event.
“It feels brilliant to be back interacting with all the groups again – it’s been really good.”
Sebastian’s father Mark was also delighted to see his son back in action after such a long time away from the sport.
“I’m really proud to watch him (Sebastian) with the boys, getting out and playing some competitive sport, particularly after the length of time that they’ve missed it so it’s really good to see everybody back together again.”
Following past experience with helping children with learning disabilities, one anonymous supporter said: “Oh they love it, absolutely love it. They love participating and they get so much out of it. It gives them a lot of confidence, especially some of the autistic participants it brings them out of their shell.
“I used to work with autistic kids and it’s just a transformation for them – it’s been really good.”
It was the first time that Hull FC participated in a LDSL festival and coach Matt praised its impact on his team.
“It’s been really good to meet all the other teams and I know our team have been mingling with the others, so it’s been a really nice environment, and everybody seems to be getting on well.
“We’ve gone from video calls to actually getting out and playing so it’s been excellent. I know that this lot have been asking me for nearly two years to play.
“As soon as we got on the coach, they had the speakers going I suppose a little bit like a first-team environment. We try to make it as much about those guys as we can.”
Before lockdown, Castleford Tigers’ Supporters Club donated rugby balls and tag rugby equipment for the clubs LDRL team. Member of the Committee Paul Burns-Williamson was pleased the equipment was going to good use and felt elevated by the festival.
“You can see the excitement and competitiveness on the faces of the participants. It’s so uplifting to be here.
“I attended an event in Wakefield two years ago and I went away feeling uplifted by the whole event and it’s exactly the same here. Perhaps even more so as Covid-19 kept these players out of this kind of activity for such a long time.”