ELATED Toronto Wolfpack are in Super League at last - but not before being put under intense pressure by spirited part-timers Featherstone Rovers.
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The West Yorkshire club actually led approaching the hour mark following a brilliant defensive display in tonight’s Championship Grand Final in Ontario.
However, star-studded Toronto, led by Brian McDermott, the coach who led Leeds Rhinos to four Super League titles, at last sorted themselves out and they will become the first trans-Atlantic team to play in Super League in 2020.
In front of a first sell-out crowd at Lamport Stadium, they were thankful to the likes of former St Helens star Jon Wilkin and Australian stand-off Blake Wallace for finally getting them home.
They had crumbled under the pressure 12 months ago, suffering a shock defeat to London Broncos in the Million Pound Game at the same venue.
Gritty Featherstone - who only had nine contracted players in pre-season - finished fifth in the Championship but won on their travels in three successive weekends at Leigh, York and Toulouse to reach this Grand Final and delivered yet another inspiring display.
Out of the top-flight since 1995 when they were controversially ejected at the advent of Super League, they had led 6-4 early in the second period and with big-spenders Toronto, understandably, looking increasingly nervy.
However, they finally managed to take the lead via Wallace’s try in the 57th minute.
Given the resilient and - at times - remarkable defence Ryan Carr’s side had displayed thus far, it was a soft score to eventually concede.
Jack Bussey, the former Toronto prop who was otherwise excellent, conceded a penalty when in possession and, soon after, Wallace stepped over from a scrum 15m out.
Golding did well to deny Wallace a second soon after but, on the back of another penalty, they did bludgeon their way over for a third try in the 62nd minute.
It was Bodene Thompson, the 31-year-old Kiwi who played in the Super League Grand Final with Warrington last season, who profited as the hosts finally found their rhythm.
Gareth O’Brien added his second conversion for a 16-6 lead but tireless Featherstone refused to lie down.
They applied some pressure of their own with Cameron King, the Australian hooker back after missing all their play-offs run through concussion, burrowing over from close range.
He was denied and Wilkin, Toronto’s former England loose forward, seemed to aim his head at the Featherstone player as he directed a few words.
King slapped him in the face before jogging away but no action was taken against either player and the hosts made sure moments later when Wallace broke through once more to set up position for Joe Mellor to step over in the 70th minute.
Wallace converted and added a penalty to see Toronto make history but, for large parts, it looked like Featherstone could cause a huge shock.
At the start of the second half, James Harrison produced a brilliant try-saving tackle on Gareth O’Brien, somehow holding up the Toronto full-back over the try-line, but then did the same in the same set to deny Wilkin on the last tackle.
Featherstone - who only got back from Toulouse on Monday - led 6-4 at the break following a remarkable first half effort.
They had scrambled again and again to deny Toronto who - for all their speed and power in marching up field - could not find a killer touch with their final plays.
Aside from Bussey’s earlier break up the middle, Featherstone spent most of their time delivering try-saving tackles.
Jack Johnson came off his wing to smash Andrew Dixon, John Davies denied the same player soon after while O’Brien and Chase Stanley were both guilty of being caught on the last tackle.
Errors crept in for the hosts, too, as they grew more and more frustrated; Boden Thompson wasted one chance by failing to play the ball correctly, Joe Mellor ran behind his own player to concede a penalty in Featherstone’s 20 and Brian McDermott’s side had no answer.
It was the visitors who actually then broke the deadlock, ironically with their first real attack of note in the 28th minute.
Thompson had fumbled on the ground trying to get hold of Callum McLelland’s offload and that gifted Rovers a repeat set.
Dane Chisholm dabbed in a clever, bending kick and Liam Kay - the former Wakefield Trinity winger - forgot to take the ball with him as he turned behind his own line.
Instead, Jack Johnson touched down to delight of the travelling fans with around 400 Featherstone supporters having made the 3,400 mile trip.
Chisholm landed a fine touchline conversion but then forced an unnecessary offload in the next set inside his own half.
Prop Davies - who led Featherstone’s push so well with fellow forward Bussey - chastised his team-mate; he knew they could ill-afford such mistakes.
It did prove costly as Josh McCrone, the Wolfpack captain, did finally step and power his way over.
Even then, though, O’Brien missed the simple conversion attempt and so it meant Toronto went in at half-time at home behind for the first time this season.
But there was no denying Toronto in the end and, three years after being formed, they are now finally where they desired to be.