It was a generally quiet afternoon in northern England last Sunday. Brexit had finally been announced, the royals had reached a settlement. All was well in their quiet, northern lives.
But one city did not fit this description. Emerald Headingly stadium in Leeds was being flooded with fans who were about to witness Rugby League history being made before their eyes. This history, was the first time a team from outside of Europe or Australia would play top-flight professional rugby league.
The opposition: Castleford Tigers, fondly referred to by the name ‘Cas’ by their large and devoted supporter base. Having finished 3rd and 5th in 2018 and 2019 respectively, getting a result against Cas is regarded as no mean feat in the world of the Super League.
With former NRL players Jordan Rankin, Cheyse Blair and Sosaia Feki on their roster, the Tigers have one of the stronger backlines in the competition, and are tipped to do well once again this season.
But all eyes were on the Torontonians leading into the game. SBW was back, the 10 million dollar man. The highest paid player of all time in either code was about to take the field and set the Super League alight.
But perhaps that expectation was unrealistic from the start.
The Wolfpack actually hit the front on one of their first attacks, with centre Hakim Miloudi putting in a perfectly weighted kick for winger Liam Kay to chase through and put down. Almost poetically, the Wolfpack’s first ever signing scoring their first ever points in Super League.
But from that point onwards, it was clear that Toronto had the wrong approach to the game. Trying to offload on every play, they acted like every tackle was their last. This attempt to cross the line on every play using razzle-dazzle tactics cost them their lead, with Castleford picking up a loose ball after a couple of offloads that were never on to score their first try under the sticks.
Toronto then capitulated for the next 30 minutes. Castleford streaked out to a 22-4 lead by half time, and could have scored more if not for a couple of instances of last ditch defending by Toronto on their goal-line.
The Wolfpack looked out of their depth, and entirely off the pace set by a side who’s just spent their 10th straight season in the top flight of English rugby league. Even the introduction of SBW to the game didn’t change the momentum, with the veteran seemingly getting lost in the fray upon his return to the 13-man code.
But in the second half, the Wolfpack came out of the sheds an entirely different team. For the next 40 minutes they matched it with one of the best sides in the division, with the second half ending 6-all. In fact, the Wolfpack were unlucky not to win the second half, with forward Adam Sidlow coming within millimetres of scoring after crossing the Castleford line.
Despite this second-half effort, the internet didn’t hesitate to get on the Wolfpack’s backs, labelling their performance as ‘disappointing’ considering the build-up to the game. But the Wolfpack simply played like a team that let the occasion get to them, with their game littered by handling errors and other negative meterage plays.
Taking these elements out however, and you’ve got a team who did themselves proud on their Super League debut. This is an area of their game that will develop as the season goes on, as will the impact of the evergreen Sonny Bill Williams. Under the guidance of English master-coach Brian McDermott, the Wolfpack can rest assured that their results will improve.
The only condition of failure this year for the Wolfpack would be relegation. Aside from that, establishing themselves as a mainstay Super League team over the next 10 or 20 years is the main goal.
If you’re expecting the Wolfpack to win the Super League this season, you’ve got the wrong idea about this team. The Wolfpack aren’t a team about short-term success, they’re a team about the long term development of the sport in the Northern Hemisphere. Get behind them in a good way, because the future of our sport lies with their example. Are you on board with the future of Rugby League