BY THOMAS ALDERSON
There can be no doubting that the emergence of Toronto Wolfpack as rugby league’s first transatlantic sports team has been hailed as a huge success story. The Wolfpack burst onto the scene from nothing this season to take the RFL’s Kingstone Press League 1 competition by storm, securing top spot and automatic promotion to the second tier competition.
Toronto’s star-studded roster largely swept aside the vast majority of their opponents this year, racking up heavy score lines and an impressive points differential. However, the Wolfpack certainly didn’t have everything their own way this season and the well documented challenges presented to the club off the field were met at times by setbacks on it.
After boasting a perfect 15 wins from 15 matches to finish the regular season, the Wolfpack made their debut into the Super 8s competition looking to go unbeaten in their remaining playoff games but were brought down to earth abruptly in round one.
Arriving as clear favourites to get their playoff campaign underway with a win, TWP faced a resurgent York City Knights side in the north of England. A fairy tale story themselves, having almost completely disbanded at the conclusion of the 2016 season, York finished fourth in the regular season and welcomed the Wolfpack to Bootham Crescent confident of challenging.
They did that and then some, playing sublimely well from minute 1 to 80 and well and truly humbled Toronto with a historic 26-16 victory, inflicting the first defeat on the rugby league new boys.
This largely surprising result for the underdogs was repeated at the expense of Paul Rowley’s men a fortnight later; when Toronto relinquished a big lead against the Keighley Cougars at Cougar Park to share the spoils with a 26 all draw.
It was certainly not the start the Wolfpack had envisaged to life in the Super 8s but it spelt an extremely important lesson for the club moving forward. Having faced little adversity on the pitch, these surprising results, against opposition Toronto had generally overcome easily this year, were just the tonic the players needed to regain their focus and galvanise them for the remainder of the season.
Looking back at the season, Rowley stated those speed bumps on the club’s road to the Championship were vital:
“If you were writing a script on the season you would have probably thrown something like the York game in there to make it more exciting,” he said.
“It was probably down to a few factors. We’d had an easy run in the last few games of the season, then we have the week off but York were very good, they had a good build up and put it into practice on the field.”
“For us it was a chance to go away, work really hard and put things right and I think we did that.”
The Wolfpack responded in emphatic fashion, going on an impeccable five game winning streak to close out the season and actually secured their League 1 title in front of an adoring Lamport Stadium home crowd against close rivals Barrow Raiders with one game to spare.
Toronto’s ability to regain their composure at the business end of the season and confirm their position as the dominant side in the RFL’s third tier competition speaks volumes about the attitude and the values of the squad. The mental toughness the players displayed to get themselves back on track stands them in good stead for what will be a much tougher and challenging season in the Kingstone Press Championship.