TotalRL Editor Matt Shaw spoke to Toronto’s Director of Rugby, Brian Noble, to discuss the thinking behind the Wolfpack’s game with Halifax, which will be played in London.
MS: Brian, thanks for talking to us. Explain exactly how and why this game came about?
BN: The game came about because we’re having our stadium redeveloped and we needed to play one of our home games here. So it came from our ownership group to play it in London, the capital. We understand the dynamics of London and what it can offer in relation to the bigger picture, the commerce and the bigger finances that are available and a place for Rugby League.
You’ve got this global footprint if you like in London and we need to tap into it. We were keen to showcase a game there and as we clearly did in our first season when we played London Skolars there, they had a great attendance with a lot of Canadians keen to see us represent Canada in the right style. It’s a long answer to your short question but that’s it. We wanted to bring a Canadian flavour to London and we want to give it a Toronto feel, almost what its like at Lamport. It’s an opportunity for us.
MS: It’s no secret that you’ve made massive efforts around the world to showcase this club and Rugby League and Canada as a country has been very receptive. Have you been surprised by that?
BN: It’s new and people like that. We needed that element of success to go with that and it’s been well financed and well thought out in relation to the winning rugby to ensure we can create noise and a footprint out there.
Toronto doesn’t carry the 120 years of history this great game does and we have to be conscious of that. We want to be part of the heritage but we’re new. We want to respect it but by the same token, we don’t want it to be an anchor for us necessarily. I’m thoroughly convinced that something new is exciting for the game and gives it impetus. I remember when Catalans Dragons first came back into Super League and when Super League was launched itself. There was euphoria and a great new vision, but were there decanting voices? Of course there was, everybody remembers the fight before Super League. But do I think it’s improved the game? Have a look and make your own decision. The same values are there and some of the same clubs with regards to community spirit. There’s a place at the table for everybody and while we’re offering something it should be embraced.
MS: What exactly have you got planned for the day?
BN: You can get some maple syrup there so get your pancakes! With the help of the High Commission in Canada there’s a huge explosion in relation to trying to promote the game. It’s not easy, there’s a lot of competition around there. It’s a Wolfpack home game in the middle of Tottenham. I just think we need to open our eyes and ears to how big financially London could be. I think it’s massive for the game and shows that we want to invest in the game in the UK, not just North America.
When we’re over here we do our best to make sure everybody improves there wherewithal. The other bit is that we put our money where our mouth is and spent quite a lot promoting the game here. Saturday is fantastic, we’ve got Halifax who are a top four team playing really well. It’s a massive fixture for the club and the presence of the game in London.
MS: You seem to have a good relationship with the Skolars. How did it come about and are there plans to extend it?
BN: I often reckon Hector (McNeil) might feel they’re a lone ship. I think when we went there last year and tried to promote the game it had a resonating factor on him. Simon Fox is down there too making a big effort. In this game you have to scratch each other’s back. We can’t be so insular as to think we can all do this on our own as separate entities. We will work with anybody to promote the game and that has to be the mantra of the club moving forward. We know the product is good but we have to make the event good. We’re into events in Toronto, we get them every week, and we want them here in the UK. York made it an event and it was brilliant.
MS: Previously we have spoken about the feasibility of teams in the UK putting on a product like you do in Toronto. Is this fixture a chance for you to prove it can be done?
BN: Yes. We do have some unique selling points and re-jigging that for clubs every week is a challenge. But you have to think outside the box. I remember Odsal in its pomp. It wasn’t just the game on the field, it was the Harley Davidsons around the field, the entertainment on the field and people showcasing their own stardom. Sometimes we’re too arrogant to think people know about the product, you have to go and show them.
There’s no reason why you can’t make it something for the day. The main event is the Rugby League, absolutely, but you have to give people reasons to come. There’s competition for the pound. We’ve got to keep banging on and not get tired of it. The easy thing to do is say it won’t work and that’s a Northern attitude to stuff at times. You’ve got to open your thought processes and say why it could work, not why it won’t.