Eyebrows were raised when it was announced that a team playing in Toronto would join League one for the 2017 season.
Experienced Coach Paul Rowley was quickly recruited and legend Brian Noble was installed as a director of Rugby.
We actually paid the Toronto boys a visit last December and it was obvious to see then how much this venture meant to them.
Obviously there was criticism from the M62 corridor, we should be helping the clubs here before we look to expand to a country the other side of the Atlantic, how could teams afford to travel to Toronto? How could players,who are part time get a weekend off to go to play there?
Well the difference here was that the full cost of the trip would not be met by the clubs or the RFL, the Wolfpack paid the expenses of all the squads that have gone over there, and as for a weekend off well my job requires me to work on the Sabbath but I’m damn sure I’d get one off for a free weekend in a beautiful city like that.
Fans of the clubs travelling must have tales to tell, not many people get to travel to North America to watch their side play a League game.
The biggest problem was getting visas for players, but teething problems were always going to arise with such an innovative adventure.
The next problem was the difference in standard, the Wolfpack squad is largely made up of ex Super League and Championship talent, surely they would be way too good for League One.
Rowley himself refuted any suggestion they would go straight in the Championship, telling us they wanted to start at the bottom and work their way up the right way.
They are starting to put the sport on the map in their home City, playing to a packed Lamport Stadium, and they’ve even tied up a TV deal with Premier Sports to show every game live.
Surely the 1st time League one has ever featured live on TV.
They have certainly put League one on the map, the Rugby League family largely forgot our 3rd tier but not anymore.
They’ve also knocked London out of the Cup, the Broncos finished 2nd in the Championship and lost narrowly at Catalans last week, then pushing Super League Salford all the way showing the strength of their squad.
2 weeks ago as Hull FC and Wigan were winning Cup Semi Finals, York City Knights were overwhelmingly voted our team of the week for being the 1st League one side to beat the Wolfpack this year. Nearly 2000 fans turned up at Bootham Crescent that day to watch the visitors from across the pond, last week Keighley pulled off an entertaining draw against Rowleys men, this time nearly a thousand fans turning up to watch.
They are putting bums on seats and spreading the word of our great game, the biggest legacy could be in how they’ve raised the standard of League one Rugby League, the other sides in the league haven’t just sat back and let them run away with it. Yes, some sides have capitulated across the pond, but as it stands now Barrow are only 2 points off taking the automatic promotion spot from the Wolfpack, with Whitehaven only 2 points further back.
Toronto sit top on 33 points with Barrow 31 and Whitehaven 29, it’s admirable the way these relatively small clubs have risen to the challenge put in front of them, not just York and Keighley who’ve taken points off them but the league as a whole have used it as an incentive to improve.
Yes, with 4 home games to come you’d expect Toronto to comfortably top the division at the end of the Super 8 but the side that comes up with them will be better prepared from having Championship standard opposition to play against already this year, the sides going down will not find it easy to bounce straight back.
If they do gain promotion it’ll be interesting to see how they fare in the 2nd tier, Toulouse looked like finishing a comfortable 2nd place to Hull KR but faltered dramatically as the Regular season neared it’s end. The Wolfpack will look to do alot better than that, I’m sure they’ll look to recruit again and no one knows how to win that League more than Rowley.
Surely one day they’ll end up in Super League and with a World Cup in North America in 2025 there is a real chance to tap into a potentially lucrative market.
The Canadians and Americans are sure to love our great game.
The Wolfpack are looking to include more local talent and this will help the the USA and Canada be competitive in what could be a watershed moment for our sport.
Magic weekend, Challenge Cup finals, trips to Perpignan and Toulouse for Rugby League fans, well we can add Toronto to that list now. It’s expensive but boy isn’t it great?