Before Toronto Wolfpack’s inception, Blake Wallace was an airport handyman.
A utility worker at Sydney Airport, he worked night shifts alongside his rugby league commitments with the Illawarra Cutters, a New South Wales Cup side.
But after one particular Tuesday shift, Wallace’s life changed, both quickly and drastically.
“I looked at my emails and there was one from Toronto. It had an itinerary that said I was flying to the UK on Saturday.
“I didn’t know much but I just thought “sweet”, so I packed my life into a suitcase and off I went.”
Wallace knew the Wolfpack were aware of him but never suspected anything would come of it.
“My boss used to play in the Super League, Shane Millard. He played with Simon Finnigan (former Toronto assistant coach) and Nobby (Brian Noble) had coached him. They approached him about some players and he put my name forward and it snowballed from there.
“I sent them some footage and they took a gamble on me basically, it all paid off.”
That gamble has paid off both ways, though. Sure, Toronto have allowed Wallace to live his dream as a professional rugby league player but he’s repaid them by playing a significant part in their rise to Super League.
Awash with high-profile names during their three-year journey to the top flight, few have played as big a role as the 27-year-old. He is in the top three for appearances made as well as points and tries scored.
More tellingly, he is the undisputed fan favourite among their fanbase. That is largely down to his efforts on the pitch; he scored their most important ever try as he put Toronto ahead in the Championship Grand Final, but perhaps, more importantly, his attitude off it is what makes him connect with Torontonians.
Wallace’s on-field talents reflect his character off it. He’s lively, energetic and jovial. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s gone through an array of hairstyles, from buzzcuts to bleach blonde. He takes pleasure in mixing it up with the Wolfpack fans and dancing around with the Wolfpack Pack, who go to games in wolf onesies. His down to earth approach to life has remained despite his star rising year on year.
Wallace believes the club is a perfect fit for him. It’s hard to argue.
“I think especially when we go to Toronto, it’s the way the fans embrace you that makes things special for me.
“They’re easy to talk to and very passionate. Being able to enjoy the city for what it is, to see how nice the people are and how passionate they are about all their sports, it makes you very appreciative that they give up their time to come and watch us play.”
Over the years, those fans have seen many players come and go. Toronto’s aggressive, on-the-fly recruitment strategy has made many favourites surplus to requirement in a short space of time. Many have feared that Wallace would become a victim at some stage too. But yet, despite a carousel of big-name players and better-known stars, Wallace is one of just six to last the test of time.
That in itself is impressive. Given his background, it’s remarkable.
“I’m not too sure really,” is Wallace’s honest answer when asked how he’s remained relevant.
“For me, it’s team first, when I’ve had guys come into the side, rather than see them as a threat I’ve seen them as guys who will make me a better player because I can learn off them. Mac (Brian McDermott) told me he might use me off the bench and as a utility. I was fine with that, if it meant I had to play in the front row I was fine with that.
“I’m not a selfish person, I’ll do my job for my teammates and I think because I’ve got that mindset it’s allowed me to do what I’m doing.”
Wallace doesn’t want to journey to end anytime soon. Now in Super League, his Toronto adventure has exceeded all expectations, but he’s no plans to bring it to an end soon.
“It was always the goal but I thought I’d just ride that wave and see where it got me to. It’s good to finally be here.
“You look at the progression from the first year to now and it is crazy. Some of the media companies over there and stuff that are showing interest in us.
“But it’s only going to get bigger.”