With so much happening in rugby league at the minute, it may have slipped under the radar that there’s a pretty seismic event happening away from the heartlands this weekend. In essence, it’s bigger than anything that will happen (on the field at least) anywhere else in the rugby league world.
For two months we’ve seen Toronto muscle their way through the field as many expected them to do in League 1. Sure, they had a blip against Salford in the Challenge Cup, but apart from that, they’ve looked impressive to say the least. This weekend, things step up a notch when they go to Canada for the first time.
This weekend, folks. This weekend is where we’ll really find out just how much legs this Wolfpack project has got: or at least where we’ll start to find out.
I’m sure many are watching with bated breath to see not only what level of crowd Toronto pull in for their home game against Oxford, but what the buzz around the city is in general for their newest sporting baby. Those who know even a fraction about Toronto know it’s sport-mad: so in that sense, the Wolfpack are starting off in a good, healthy city to welcome more elite sport.
What’s a success? The Wolfpack were talking about selling Lamport Stadium out at one stage but with a dose of reality thrown into the mix, it looks like the crowd will be below that approximate 9,000 figure. Still, if the Wolfpack see a crowd of around 6,000 through the gates, then that’s a huge positive, surely?
The only problem is that right now, it feels like for some rugby league fans, the Toronto project just can’t win.
Hopefully a healthy crowd in Toronto – and a buzz around the Wolfpack in general – will abate that feeling somewhat. It’s understandable that a team comprised of former Super League and Championship players, with hardly any North Americans in sight, is copping a bit of stick.
But don’t forget, North America is an embryonic area for rugby league. Ryan Burroughs (USA) and Rhys Jacks (Canada) are in the Wolfpack’s ranks, and have been playing. Bringing through promising young Canadian talent is a long-term aspect of the Wolfpack’s project. It’s easy for people to say they should be blooding those players in League 1 but in reality, they would be brutally exposed to a tough, physical style of rugby unlike anything they’ll have ever experienced before. It’d be a massacre.
There’s also been criticism about putting Toronto in League 1; but if they’d been dropped into the Championship or Super League, there would be just as much criticism about them being fast-tracked. This was the right way: it was the only way.
This is a huge weekend for rugby league and any hopes the sport has of putting down some sort of presence across the Atlantic. At first it was a pipe-dream, but the Wolfpack and their riches have made it a reality. If Lamport Stadium is rocking on Saturday afternoon in Toronto, maybe a few more people will believe that this whole thing could work – and could be a good thing for rugby league on the whole.
Good luck to the Wolfpack in making it a success.