Thursday, 7 February 2019

Sunday's Coming: 'Toronto' Wolfpack

I TAKE IT BLACK: Part-time TV pundit and Mancunian coffee-shop magnate
Jon Wilkin models the imaginatively designed new Wolfpack away jersey
When Toronto visited Spotland last year, they came with a few odd requests. Firstly they said they wanted two dressing rooms to accommodate their squad and their extensive entourage of staff (including a cortege of masseurs to warm up their players). Secondly, they wanted the hot water putting on before the game because a couple of their players like to have a shower BEFORE they play. Prima donnas? Much?

This year, London Broncos are off the mark in Super League with a big win over Wakefield, while Toronto find themselves back at Spotland for another turn around the Championship.

The Fallowfield-based side opened their 2019 account with an unconvincing 14-0 win at newly promoted York - and new Wolfpack coach Brian McDermott assessed the performance with a dour Yorkshire realism.  In Canadian newspaper The Globe & Mail he said: “I’m not going to tell you that we were off. I thought we were OK, nearly good,” he said after the game. “I just think York was outstanding and that’s why it was a real contest.”

McDermott did, however, like his team’s attitude and stern defence. Speaking on the Wolfpack's website he pointed out:  “In any game that you play, regardless of the level or contest, if you can stop the opposition from scoring any points you’ve got to take some credit. I thought our attitude towards things not going our own way, and hard work, was brilliant. We can build upon that for sure.”

In the wake of the win, part-time pundit Jon Wilkin believes the club can make it to Super League. “Yes, I believe this Club can make it to Super League," He said.  He went on: "We are among the favourites, rightly so, but hard work trumps talent. We’ve got to work harder than everyone else because we’re not going to beat people just because we’re better individuals.”

McDermott concurs. In the York Press he said: "There's a bit to work on in offence - our kicking game was shocking for the first 25 minutes of the game and York's was nearly 10 out of 10. But I'm going to keep coming back to the hard work aspect of it and the attitude when things aren't going our way."

Indeed, York didn't allow Toronto to have things their own way at all. It took the Wolfpack 24 minutes to crack the home defence - and it needed a further two tries in the last 12 minutes to secure the points.

In a tight game, half-back Joe Mellor proved the difference: directing traffic and weighing in with a try fir good measure.

But when you look down the Wolfpack team-sheet, the scale of York's achievement is pulled sharply into focus: Sunday's visitors  really do look like a Super League side in waiting. Some of the CVs in there are serious heavy duty.

Our Four to Watch

Between them, our Four to Watch don't only have over 500 NRL games under their belts, they also have an array of international caps and representative honours.

Chase Stanley  (Centre) - 110 NRL games for Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, Melbourne Storm and the St. George Illawarra Dragons. He's also been capped by the Kiwis and New Zealand Maori. Last year he scored 9 tries in 19 games for Toronto.

Ricky Leutele (Wing) - joins Toronto this year after eight years and 129 games for the Cronulla Sharks. He played in the Sharks first ever premiership victory in 2016 - effectively winning them the game by making "... one of the most famous tackles in Cronulla’s 50-year history", stopping Marika Koroibete after the siren to secure a 14-12 victory. He also has 6 Samoa caps.

Josh McCrone (Half-Back) - 161 NRL games with Canberra Raiders and St. George Illawarra Dragons and 3 Rep. appearances with Country Origin. His most famous contribution to the Toronto cause was his dismissal for persistent dissent in their televised cup defeat at Warrington last year.

Darcy Lussick (Prop) - 55 games for Manly, 53 games for Parramatta and 2 NSW City appearances. Plays the game very close to the edge - famously charged with contrary conduct  for pulling Aaron Woods' pony-tail in a game against Wests Tigers. Reportedly left Manly after a bust-up with coach Trent Barrett.

Hornets come into the game having signed king-sized Salford prop Adam Lawton on a month's loan and he could be in contention for a debut against the Wolfpack. Fozzy thinks it's a great capture"  “It’s a great capture for us," he said. "... it’s no secret that we have been working to strengthen our forward pack and Adam gives us size and power. He’s a skilful player and cut his teeth in Super League and got some good experience at Widnes."

“He will go really well for us and I’m looking forward to seeing him play.” Oh, so are we.

Much like last year, Hornets had an enforced break on the Championship's opening weekend - the Dewsbury game falling foul of the weather - so a season opener against the League's biggest contender is an exciting opportunity to really benchmark our capabilities.

Last year's fixture saw Toronto steal victory from an imperious Hornets - at the death - on the back of a deeply dubious penalty.  A similar attitude to relentless hard-work is required this time too if we are to halt the juggernaut.

The bottom line, though, is that Toronto have, thus far, burned about £4m to end up in the same 2019 Championship as Hornets. This is year four of their five year plan to get into Super League and, right now, they remain as close to achieving that as we do - so we imagine that expectations are high, tolerance levels are pretty slim and 'nearly good' isn't nearly good enough. As York discovered, all the pressure to perform is on the Wolfpack. And if you can frustrate them, match their work-rate and play a bit of football, you give yourself a shot at overturning both the odds and their balance sheet.

We've seen in recent years that if Hornets stand together, anything is possible. We need every voice we can muster on Sunday, so bring a mate or two and help get the season off to a bang. We can't wait: see you there.