Photo Credit @cvargaadventures (Instagram)
The Toronto City Saints have scored a come-from-behind 34-22 win against Cleveland Rugby League in the inaugural Battle of the Great Lakes match on a cold Saturday night in Ohio.
Cleveland led for much of the contest but couldn’t sustain the pressure and were eventually overrun towards the end of the 80 minutes.
The home team was in front 16-12 at halftime and was clinging to a narrow 22-20 lead as the game moved into the final quarter, but Saints’ coach Mike Mastroianni says that’s when his side was finally able to make some inroads.
“We stuck to the game plan, and I think we were safe up the middle and things kind of opened up near the end,” he tells Rugby League Planet. “Our more experienced guys were able to push the group forward and get down the field more efficiently.
“Both groups really showed up, but our experienced guys set the shape and standard out there.
“We had a lot of new, young guys who came in and it was their first or second game of rugby league and due to injuries, they got 30 or 40 minutes and played really well. It was a good baptism of fire!”
Forward Nate Brown making his rugby league debut was rewarded for his intensity by being given Toronto’s MVP award. The Saints’ most experienced player Matt Barron, who came off the bench, and lock Dave Astley also earned special mentions from coach Mastroianni for turning in solid games for the visitors.
Saints’ winger Chuck Curran was named Toronto’s offensive player of the game because of his impact on proceedings. Curran scored two tries and made a lot of metres by moving the ball forward all night.
Jason Chuck was named Toronto’s defensive player of the game. The coach says that was because he created two turnovers inside Toronto’s five-metres at crucial points in the match, and for his non-stop tackling. Chuck also scored a try late in the game.
Among Toronto’s other try-scorers were fullback Leigh Keegals, forward Scott Christian and five-eighth Greg Wise.
From Cleveland’s point of view, owner Monte Gaddis says it was a big turnaround for his players who have been honing their skills since their last exhibition game against Atlanta in July 2021.
“This has been a learning curve since that game but there has been a tremendous upside for us,” he says. “We are definitely building a culture here for the men and we’re finding it. You can see that from the halftime score. It was a good game.
“Toronto came to the USA and beat Boston and New York and probably thought it was going to be a run-through with us, but it was a little different.”
Hooker Cory Graham was named Cleveland’s Man-of-the-Match.
Gaddis says other players to rate mentions include Charles Wroten, who travelled from North Carolina and scored two tries and played sound defence, along with prop Keith Harris. Both were making their rugby league debuts.
The Cleveland side also featured Sterling Wynn at fullback. Wynn had previously played for the Central Florida Warriors and Southwest Florida Copperheads in the USA Rugby League (USARL).
In the women’s game that followed, the Ontario Ospreys shut out the Cleveland Outlaws 68-0 in very cold and rainy conditions.
It was the Cleveland women’s team’s first ever game, while the Ontario side had several players who had represented Canada at last year’s Women’s Rugby League World Cup.
“And with the ladies, even more exciting times,” adds Gaddis. “For about 90-percent of them, it was their first rugby league match, and they stayed in it for the whole 80-minutes.”
Cleveland Rugby League had a media photo shoot before the doubleheader and then a post-match social event.
Looking ahead, Cleveland is working on plans to host another doubleheader with teams from Florida in August.