Co-captain Cody Everson believes New Zealand’s wheelchair rugby team will be the "dark horses" at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
New Zealand has a rich history in rugby union having won eight Rugby World Cups, five Rugby World Cup Sevens and 17 Tri Nations and Rugby Championships between their men’s and women’s senior national teams.
But the wheelchair rugby team has yet to achieve such heights as they prepare for their first appearance at a Paralympics in 13 years.
The Wheel Blacks secured their place at Tokyo 2020 with victory over South Korea in the bronze medal match at the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation Asia-Oceania Championship in 2019.
It was a special moment for the team that narrowly missed out on qualification for Rio 2016.
"Being co-captain as well was pretty cool knowing that we haven't qualified since 2008," said Everson.
"I think a few guys were a bit emotional because they wanted it for so long and they were at the end of the career.
"Now they can finally say that they're going to be a Paralympian."
Everson said his team will be in a stronger position ahead of Paris 2024, but believes they could cause a surprise in the Japanese capital.
"We are a young team," said Everson.
"The main focus was going to be 2024 when we should be at the top of our game, everyone should have played together enough, so Tokyo was realistic for us, but we knew as well that we're building.
"We are the dark horses."
Growing up in Christchurch, Everson said he had dreams of becoming an All Black.
But at the age of 15 Everson sustained a neck injury in a tackle which resulted in him becoming tetraplegic – a paralysis of all four limbs and torso.
After spending two weeks in an intensive care unit, Everson was told he would not be able to walk again.
"I'd lost function in my fingers and I couldn't push my chair," said Everson.
"I couldn't really feed myself.
"I wanted to do all this other stuff and I think that kind of really took away from that I really want to walk.
"It was more I really want to get back to doing more for myself."
Following the postponement of Tokyo 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Everson decided to undergo surgery to regain the use of his hands.
"It has been tough getting back into training because I've had [such a] long time off, and I've missed a tournament and a lot of trainings," Everson said.
"So that's probably been the most challenging time for me, knowing the Paralympics is so far away and my mental sort of thing is probably the worst it's ever been.
"I think once I built that momentum back up and get to camp in a few weeks’ time and see everyone, the drive will kick in again."