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Dave Craven – Serious business as Toronto Wolfpack aim to take another giant leap

Toronto Wolfpack huddle up after victory over Leeds Rhinos last Friday. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com
Toronto Wolfpack huddle up after victory over Leeds Rhinos last Friday. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com
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IT IS an expansionists’ dream come true – the Million Pound Game being contested between Toronto Wolfpack and London Broncos.

The first such affair in 2014 saw Wakefield Trinity and Bradford Bulls clash, traditional clubs who had more than 200 years combined experience of rugby league.

Toronto's Mason Caton-Brown thanks the fans for their support after victory over Leeds Rhinos. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Toronto's Mason Caton-Brown thanks the fans for their support after victory over Leeds Rhinos. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

When Canadian ‘franchise’ Toronto bid for Super League on Sunday night in the final Million Pound Game before the sport’s structure alters yet again, they do so having only been in existence for less than two.

Opponents London are comparative veterans given, in various guises including Fulham and Harlequins, they have been around since 1980. Still, they have one thing in common; both want to force a deviation in the famous M62 corridor that has underpinned the sport here – rightly or wrongly – since 1895.

But Toronto, of course, are the club everyone is talking about. Even by rugby league’s bold and innovative ideals – it likes to challenge itself even if the status quo often remains – it is a radical concept; a trans-Atlantic club. Madness, surely?

No. They are clearly intent on achieving their goal, successfully clearing any hurdle put in their place so far during their embryonic stages.

Toronto, of course, are the club everyone is talking about. Even by rugby league’s bold and innovative ideals – it likes to challenge itself even if the status quo often remains – it is a radical concept; a trans-Atlantic club. Madness, surely?

Dave Craven

Unlike Catalans Dragons, the Wolfpack were not gifted a place in Super League and handed three years’ grace from relegation. Instead, they started in League 1 against the likes of Hemel Stags and Coventry Bears, predictably winning the title at a canter last year, their inaugural campaign. Similarly they raced to top spot in the Championship this time around.

To get to Sunday’s definitive showdown, they have already beaten two Super League teams in the Qualifiers, including downing champions Leeds Rhinos on their own patch a week ago.

As badly as Leeds have slumped since winning at Old Trafford 12 months ago, that is still a truly notable achievement.

Don’t be fooled: Toronto are not Paris St Germain, they are here and they are serious.

Toronto's Ashton Sims celebrates victory over Leeds Rhinos. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Toronto's Ashton Sims celebrates victory over Leeds Rhinos. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Australian mining tycoon David Argyle is the man pumping the money in and, in all honesty, if he wasn’t they wouldn’t be in this position.

But, equally so, the majority of Super League clubs would struggle to exist if their current benefactors decided to pull the plug tomorrow so let’s not get precious about how the Wolfpack are being bankrolled.

They boast an average crowd of almost 6,000 – more than plenty of Super League sides – at Lamport Stadium and what is most obvious is those fans thoroughly enjoy the experience; Toronto make it a day out, not just a game of rugby league.

The matchday experience is deemed second to none, with players regularly captured mingling with fans afterwards in the pitchside bars, and Wolfpack have been embraced by neighbouring sport giants such as Toronto Blue Jays baseball side as they raise their profile.

Granted, their are logistical issues and, of course, they are heavily reliant on overseas players but that is to be expected.

If they reach Super League they will not take any central funds either (although whether that is for a set term or perpetuity is another opaque matter) and they have secured their own broadcast deals.

Furthermore, in Gareth O’Brien, who slotted the match-winning drop goal at Headingley last week, they have someone who knows how to win a Million Pound Game. Just ask Hull KR.

Sunday will be intriguing...