By Avry Lewis-McDougall
It was windy. It was cold. It was Rugby League in Toronto and it was a blast.
The Toronto Wolfpack, the first pro rugby league team in Canada made their home debut finally this past Saturday in Kingstone Press League 1 action at Lamport Stadium in front of just shy of seven thousand fans who were fired up well before game time.
The unbeaten Toronto side in league play whom going into this game had scored over 300 points and given up less than 40 took on semi pro Oxford, a team with players who had day jobs that ranged from dentists to police officers.
Needless to say this game went much like every other league game has gone for Toronto, an absolute beat down as the Wolfpack would be dominate from start to finish with a 62-12 win and the 4th time that they put up 60+ points in the league but there was so much more to this historic game than just the scoreline to chat about…
The UK Rugby League Media Came Over For It. Seriously.
Media day and the game had solid coverage from Canadian outlets ranging from the CBC, the Athletic and the Toronto Star and internationally the game certainly had the eye of the UK media.
Alex Simmons, the creator and one of the hosts of Rugby AM, a weekly show that profiles Rugby League in the UK made the trip to Canada for it and clearly enjoyed his time in Toronto.
— Rugby AM 📺 (@RugbyAM) May 5, 2017
— Alex Simmons (@alexsimmonstv) May 10, 2017
I had to do honestly do a double take at the #WengerOut sign and I burst out laughing. Well played!
If you want to get more into the sport I encourage you to check out the show which is very funny and informative on the sport!
Rugby League AM Link: http://www.rugbyam.co.uk/
Amateurs and Pros Playing Together Has Been Interesting
In the third tier of English rugby league as mentioned earlier not every team is fully professional which has lead to the Wolfpack being able to score at will but also on Saturday it lead to an all out brawl as tempers totally boiled over in the 69th minute with the Wolfpack up 58-6.
The affair of fists meeting face saw Toronto’s Blake Wallace and Jake Emmit among the players sent off forcing them to finish the match with their 10 going against the 13 of Oxford’s
Wolfpack head coach Paul Rowley didn’t mince his words about the situation that led to the brawl and stood firmly behind his squad and what they’ve had to deal with.
“I think the incidents were a build up from a lack of control throughout the game. The boys at halftime were absolutely frustrated, I had to pick them up at halftime because of the way the game had become out of control. That’s what you get when you mix amateurs with pros, our pros were frustrated and that will happen most weeks unless we get better protection and strong officiating, I thought that was poor today”.
The Dudes in Black and White Are Loving Every Minute Of The Canadian Experience
From saluting the fans to taking pictures with seemingly all everyone in attendance the Wolfpack truly feel at home playing in Canada and especially enjoyed the cloudy conditions, a reminder of back home to captain Craig Hall during the post game press conference.
“It was just like England to be honest. I was told there would be lots of sun on the field today but the boys loved it”.
The reception from the fans was something that Hall loved as his squad thanked the fans for coming, be it by just shaking hands or taking selfies after the match and also left the with a message to improve the home atmosphere even more.
“Unbelievable. Not just me, all of our lads in their (the locker room) were just talking about how good it was out there. We were going trying to go around to every fan, thank them for coming and telling them to bring a friend. I think the more of them we’ll get down here the atmosphere will be brilliant in two weeks”.
None of this would have been possible without team founder and owner Eric Perez, the Canadian who fell in love with the game while living in the UK, he knew even from the first game he saw it would be something that could be a hit in the Canadian sports market.
“The first time I saw the sport I was sitting down in my living room in England and I just thought, this was the most Canadian thing!
There actually was a scrap in the first game I thought and I thought only hockey had scraps and I kinda like this! It’s kinda apropos that the first game here was a little bit messy but I just knew that we would take to something that was genuine and had passion and that’s what Canadian fans really get down with. They like energy, they like passion and they like a Toronto team that can put wins on the board and we seem to do that”.
Expect To See Plenty of Team Gear Around Toronto
Well before this game the club shop (139 Jefferson Ave in Liberty Village) was absolutely packed with fans browsing around and lined up to buy team gear. What was in stock? Everything from authentic jerseys, scarves, polo shirts and team hats.
Hats and scarves are at reasonable prices between $14 and $34 for scarves and hats and the store is open during the week on non game days. Give it time and you my dear reader will be noticing Wolfpack hats mixed in with the Jays, Leafs and Raptors gear.
For the Wolfpack now they’re back at it this afternoon going up against the Newcastle Thunder right now. Toronto returns to Lamport Stadium on May 20th for their game vs the Barrow Raiders, currently the team on top of the table.
If the first game at Lamport was any indication, expect another loud and packed crowd next week and for quite some time after that.