HASH(0xb67798)

HASH(0xb67798)

Rain or not, Toronto Wolfpack ready for rugby league home opener this Saturday

Wolfpack ready for rugby league home opener

TORONTO — There were smiles in the rain Thursday as the Toronto Wolfpack trained in advance of their weekend home opener.

After winning seven of eight competitive matches in England, rugby league’s first transatlantic team has embarked on the next step on its remarkable adventure — introducing the sport to Canada.

It starts Saturday against Oxford RLFC (2-2-0) with Wolfpack officials hoping that heavy rain forecast for the next couple of days will have dissipated by the mid-afternoon kickoff at Lamport Stadium.

The wet stuff is nothing new to a squad based in the north of England, although coach Paul Rowley tried to convince the media of the weather delights of Manchester. Rowley says his squad, which arrived Tuesday, is already enjoying Toronto.

“The most important people in all of this are the players and they’re absolutely loving their experience,” said the 42-year-old Rowley, a former England hooker. “It’s more than they could have ever imagined and that pleases me because I’m responsible for those guys and (for) bringing them to Canada.

“It’s a wonderful city. What’s not to love? So they’re having a good time but working hard as well and we’re getting serious now.”

Not to be confused with 15-man rugby union, rugby league is the lesser-known 13-man version of the game. It’s a sport that showcases both brutal hits and elegant runs.

“There’ll be blood, there’ll be tears, there’ll be beauty,” said Rowley. “So you’ve got a bit of everything. And so I’m told, the Canadians, they don’t mind a bit of biff and we’ll provide a little bit for them.” 

The brainchild of team CEO Eric Perez, the Wolfpack have started life in the third tier of English rugby league with the hope of winning promotion to the second-tier Championship and then the elite Super League.

So far, so good.

The fully professional Wolfpack have won all five matches in the Kingstone Press League 1, outscoring their semi-pro opposition 310-37. Toronto also dispatched the London Broncos, a Championship side, 30-26 in the knockout Ladbrokes Challenge Cup competition before falling 29-22 to the Salford Red Devils, who stand third in the Super League â€” two divisions and 22 places ahead of the Wolfpack.

The inaugural trip to Toronto is a short one. After Saturday’s game, the Wolfpack head home for a May 12 match at the Newcastle Thunder.

Then it’s two games in Toronto, two on the other side of the Atlantic, four in Toronto and so on.

The Wolfpack hope to bring the players’ families over for some of the longer stops in town. In the meantime, players are putting kids to bed via FaceTime.

Team medical staff have consulted their counterparts with the England rugby sevens team, which plays around the globe, for travel trips. “We’ve left no stone unturned,” said Rowley.

In Toronto, the players are staying at what used to be the 2015 Pan Am Games athletes village, now a residence for George Brown College.

Captain Craig Hall, a statuesque six-foot-four back who previously played for Hull FC, Hull Kingston Rovers and Wakefield Trinity, says the Wolfpack are already a tight-knit group. “It’s probably been the best atmosphere I’ve had with a team since I’ve played.”

The Wolfpack players are fully invested, with many taking a pay cut for the chance to join a franchise with vision and big dreams on the ground level.  

Visiting teams will stay at York University, with the Wolfpack paying for their travel and housing costs until Toronto makes the Super League. A sponsorship with Air Transat will help ease that burden.

Perez expects to make the top-flight in three years.

“And I hope within five years, we have a parade down Yonge Street with the Super League trophy,” he said.

There have been some hiccups on this opening trip. Marquee props Fuifui Moimoi and Ryan Bailey, two of the team’s biggest names, will miss Saturday’s game due to visa red tape. Adam Sidlow and Jake Emmitt are expected to start in their place.

Loose forward Jack Bussey is serving a one-game suspension for a forearm/elbow strike. Second-rower James Laithwaite is out for an extended period after cracking a bone in his neck in the loss to Salford.

If it rains, Perez expects a crowd of 2,000 to 3,000 with 6,000 to 7,000 showing up if the sun shines. The tickets are all $16.99 plus tax.

They’ll get to see what Rowley calls “sexy rugby.” The Wolfpack love to throw the ball around on offence. On defence, they hit like a hammer.

For now, the Wolfpack home is 42-year-old Lamport Stadium, which has a capacity of 9,600. The team is trying to make it fan-friendly, offering local craft beer for example, but it’s a rudimentary venue with no cover and no frills.

Players will no doubt look forward to next season when new artificial turf is planned.

“It’s for the people,” Perez said of his team’s Toronto home. “This is a people’s team. We’re in the people’s stadium … As we move up in divisions, we will renovate the stadium.”

The scrappy Wolfpack image drew the attention of TekSavvy, an Internet provider based in Chatham, Ont., that is sponsoring the home opener and the player of the game award.

“We take on Rogers and Bell. (The Wolfpack) are competing against the teams of Rogers and MLSE,” said Fraser McNaught, TekSavvy’s vice-president of marketing. 

Saturday marks the culmination of seven years work for Perez, a local boy with a big dream.

“I’m just hoping it doesn’t rain too hard, everyone enjoys it as much as I do and that nobody gets injured,” said Perez.

NOTE: Salford’s Justin Carney has been banned eight games and fined 300 pounds ($535) after pleading guilty to racially abusing Bailey.

 

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Vancouver Island Crisis Society has seen a five per cent rise in call volumes compared to this time last year. (Black Press Media file photo)
Winter blues a concern for Vancouver Islanders during COVID-19 Christmas season

Statistics show British Columbians anticipate worsening mental health

Jason Soukochoff is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant, say Victoria police. (Courtesy VicPD)
Victoria police seek man with violent criminal history against elderly

Jason Soukochoff wanted on Canada-wide warrant for parole violations

Bystanders attend to a cyclist who is knocked to the pavement of Oak Bay Avenue. Witnesses say the cyclist was knocked off their bike in a dooring incident on Oak Bay Avenue at Fell Street at around 12:40 p.m. on Wednesday. 
(Daniel Opden Dries Photo)
UPDATED: VicPD tickets driver for ‘dooring’ cyclist on Oak Bay Avenue

Incident occurred at Oak Bay Avenue and Fell Street

West Shore RCMP pulled over a 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee on Nov. 23 after noting that it didn’t appear safe for the road. (West Shore RCMP)
West Shore RCMP pull over vehicle held together by tape and cargo strap

RCMP deemed the vehicle unsafe for the road and had it towed away

Salon owner Philip Ferreira with the PPE collection box at The Natural Hair Salon, 618 View St. (Mariah Johal photo)
Victoria salon inspires more mask recycling

Anyone welcome to drop disposable masks in bin outside View Street shop

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Nov. 24

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(AP Photo/Haven Daley)
POLL: Do you think the current COVID-19 restrictions should continue beyond Dec. 7?

One week into the new restrictions to curtail the spread of the… Continue reading

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

An excavator was stolen from a rural property south of Nanaimo this month, say police. (Photos submitted)
Excavator stolen from property south of Nanaimo

Bobcat Mini believed to have been stolen between Nov. 12-14, say RCMP

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Most Read