By Brian Lowe, Date: 3/10/18
We will know this coming Canadian Thanksgiving weekend whether the Toronto Wolfpack will be playing in the English Super League in 2019, or if they will remain in the Championship.
The Wolfpack are due to host the London Broncos Sunday in the RFL’s so-called ‘Million Pound Game’.
The winners earn promotion to Super League, while the losers stay in the second tier.
As an aside, I think the whole Super 8s The Qualifiers thing is completely ridiculous, and I can certainly understand why the powers that be in English rugby league have decided to can it.
They have finally come to their senses by agreeing to a one-up, one-down promotion/relegation system.
Most sports here in North America have a sensible system whereby teams are incentivised to win as many games as they can during the regular season so that they can factor in to the postseason. Essentially, it means every game counts.
Not so much in the current English system though, because even if you have a terrible season you still get a second bite of the cherry through these Qualifiers, which thankfully are about to go the way of the dodo.
Suddenly in August, after months of competition, a bunch of teams found themselves in a ludicrous up down all-around qualifying scenario which culminates in Sunday’s winner takes all playoff game.
So, let’s look at this match.
The Wolfpack and Broncos finished #1 and #2 respectively at the end of what for all intents and purposes was the Championship’s regular season.
That means that under the new system to take effect next year, Toronto would have automatically gone up to Super League, while the last-placed Widnes Vikings would have dropped to the Championship. As it turns out, Widnes is going down anyway after an ordinary Super 8s run.
But had the regular season continued as normal, maybe Salford would have ended up with the wooden spoon and hence been relegated from Super League.
Talk about an unnecessarily confusing system that only the Brits could think up.
As a result of this convoluted and elongated system, the Wolfpack and Broncos will hook up yet one more time in Toronto to decide who goes up and who stays where they are for the time being.
Now, the internationalists and expansionists among us will try to tell you if Toronto wins and moves up to the RFL’s big time it will be a game changer.
They believe a Wolfpack victory will put rugby league on the map in Canada like nothing else can. Their rationale is that by Toronto playing in Super League more Canadian sports fans will as a matter of course cotton on to rugby league just because.
Maybe, maybe not.
What they don’t seem to understand is that, much like the US, Canada already has a crowded sporting landscape, particularly during the time of year in which Super League is played – summer through fall.
Canadian Football, summer’s #1 sport, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, lacrosse, softball and on it goes are all in full swing.
On top of that, the NHL and NBA preseasons start in September, meaning all the sporting focus in Toronto is on the Maple Leafs and Raptors. Even the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts take a hit when that comes around.
And here’s the kicker, barely anyone apart from core fans in Toronto knows the Wolfpack exist.
I was in western Canada in September and can tell you that, without exception, no one I spoke to knew anything about the Wolfpack, let alone rugby league.
That’s not a knock on the club because to their credit, the Wolfpack have promoted themselves very well in Toronto since their inception, but that’s a far cry from raising awareness about who they are among people from Winnipeg to Vancouver.
Don’t get me wrong. Kudos to the Wolfpack for having all the success they have had in the lower divisions. A win Sunday will be a well-deserved triumph and a clear achievement of the club’s stated goal of aiming to be in Super League within its first three years.
However, a win won’t necessarily translate to what the internationalists perceive to be a major step in expanding the game globally.
After all, the reality is the Wolfpack is only one team in one city regardless of what division it’s in.