BY THOMAS ALDERSON
Saturday 6th May 2017 will forever be a very significant date in the rugby league history books. This day marked the very first competitive domestic rugby league match to take place on Canadian soil as the Toronto Wolfpack finally made their long awaited home debut in the Kingston Press League One competition.
After months of planning, with the investment of inexhaustible man power and an unwavering financial backing, the brainchild of Eric Perez finally came to reality as the Wolfpack ran out onto the turf of Lamport Stadium for the first time to take on their UK based opponents Oxford RLFC.
This fixture was so much more than just a game of sport; as it signified the coming to fruition of one of the most pioneering ventures rugby league has ever seen. Catalans Dragons shuck the rugby league world when they beat current Super League champions Wigan Warriors in France on 11th February 2006 in their first ever Super League game in what had been the sport’s most adventurous expansion to date.
However, there can be no doubting the overriding significance of the Wolfpack’s emergence as they have blown up the sport to a transatlantic scale and it is safe to say that everyone with an affiliation to rugby league collectively turned their attention to Toronto, waiting with baited breath to see how they were received by an entirely new audience.
Canada’s first close up viewing of the Wolfpack was a resounding success. Having played their first seven competitive matches in the UK, the Toronto squad touched down in style to record a comfortable 62-12 victory over Oxford in front of a 6,281 crowd that would challenge several Super League clubs averages.
The Wolfpack showcased tremendous skill, pace, power, flare and, from the moment stand-off Blake Wallace sliced through in the third minute to score the first ever Wolfpack try at their home ground, the 17 men that took to the field never looked back in an accomplished and dominant display to firmly win the hearts of the North American public.
Despite two red cards to Wolfpack players, in an incident that ironically resembled a Canadian ice hockey punch up, nothing could detract from what was a successful day all around for the Wolfpack squad who were seen mixing with adoring fans on a lap of honour after the game.
The Canadian people turned out in numbers, draped in Wolfpack colours as proud member of the newly branded ‘Den’ to support their players and with the show they were treated to the momentum and hype rugby league’s newest club has generated shows no signs of slowing down.
Head coach Paul Rowley was understandably delighted with not only his side’s maiden home victory but also with the way they had been received in Canada: “The fans love it. It was a bit of everything as promised. So we delivered, they delivered and welcome rugby league to Canada,” he said.