Toronto Wolfpack kick-off new era keen to avoid Challenge Cup upset at Siddal

Toronto's Greg Worthington and Siddal's Freddy Walker pose with the Challenge Cup.
Toronto's Greg Worthington and Siddal's Freddy Walker pose with the Challenge Cup.
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FOR all he spent seven seasons with Halifax, Toronto Wolfpack coach Paul Rowley confesses knowing very little about the town’s amateur club Siddal.

Indeed, he admitted Wednesday’s press conference there ahead of Saturday’s intriguing Ladbrokes Challenge Cup third round tie between the two sides was the first time he had ever visited the current National Conference League champions.

Nevertheless, that does not mean he is under-estimating them ahead of their historic contest.

It is ‘historic’ as it is the maiden professional game for big-spending Toronto, the Canadian club who start life in League 1 this year and become sport’s first transatlantic side.

Granted, Toronto, with famous names like Fuifui Moimoi in their ranks and plenty of recent Super League players, are expected to comfortably earn promotion in their debut campaign.

Indeed, they pushed Challenge Cup holders Hull FC close in a friendly last month but Rowley is not taking his eyes off Siddal who have form in this competition, beating League 1 Newcastle Thunder last year and testing Rochdale Hornets, too.

Their alumni include ex-Huddersfield Giants and England hooker Luke Robinson and Wakefield’s Ireland internationals Scott Grix and Liam Finn.

Rowley, 41, told The Yorkshire Post: “It’s important for both sides and for different reasons.

“It’s our first game and a lot of people have followed our journey up to this point and will do until the end of the year as well.

“But it’s great for Siddal, too, as they’re a good side who love a Cup shock and are arguably better than some teams in our division. They back themselves to pull off an upset and why not?

“The only player I knew from their side was (former Castleford, Batley and Wales prop) Byron Smith but we’ve done a lot of homework on them.

“They are really strong out of back-field from full-back, have a big, strong pack while their six grabs the headlines for them week in week out.”

Leigh-born Rowley, of course, played in Super League with Halifax during his time there from 1994 to 2000, representing England at the 2000 World Cup.

He recalled: “I had absolutely the best of times at ‘Fax. It was brilliant. We’d a really good, solid, tight-knit group and were probably over-achievers in that regard.

“We were very much like Siddal now – we had that same ethos – and there was players like Mick Hagan, Paul Moriarty and Bentos (John Bentley).

“I think it changed for me, though, when the club got rid of Michael Jackson, my best mate, and others like Simon Baldwin and Rhino (Karl Harrison).”

Certainly, there will be plenty of Halifax fans down at Exley Lane today while Siddal – coached by another former Halifax hooker Gareth Greenwood – are featured on the BBC’s live web coverage for a second successive round.

Rowley said: “It’s great that there’s some extra focus for us but I think it’s extra special for the Siddal lads.

“They’ve not got a big tie at a big club – they’re on their own ground – but being on TV I’m sure will more than make up for that. They work hard all year for games like this.”

Greenwood, however, fully understands the size of the task ahead for them.

“If we’re being honest, it’s a mountain to climb if we want to compete with them,” he said.

“We’ve beaten part-time professional teams before, but no amateur team has ever beaten a full-time professional team and there’s a reason for that.

“They’ve been full-time since September and probably spent close to £1m; we’ve been training for three weeks and spend nothing.

“If I’d had my lads in full-time since September I’d fancy it, because we know we’ve got some good players. But that difference in strength and fitness is a gulf and we need to see how good we are at bridging it.

“From what I’ve heard out of Halifax and Huddersfield, who’ve both trained against them, they’re at the level of the top Championship teams already.

“They’ll want to come and win by 80 points, not by 20.

“We need to stay with them in the first 10 minutes, then we can try and make it interesting.”