Monday, 23 January 2017

Toronto Wolfpack Trouble Super League Opposition in Pre-Season Friendly

Hull FC 26, Toronto Wolfpack 20
By James Nalton at the KCOM Stadium

This was no ordinary pre-season friendly.

A scattering of fans in the east and west sides of Hull’s KCOM Stadium turned out for this historic occasion as a professional rugby league side from Canada played their first match in anger on English soil.

The game was televised by Premier Sports, who will be showing Toronto Wolfpack’s league games throughout the season, but to show a friendly on top of this is an indication of the media’s commitment to this venture.

The feedback from the rugby league community in general has been supportive. After yesterday’s game Hull coach Lee Radford and winger Mahe Fonua both had positive things to say about the venture.

“I reckon its real good that the game’s expanding to make it more international,” enthused Fonua. “There has been a main dominant three at last world cups so it’s good to see rugby league expanding. Hopefully in time to come we can see smaller nations build up and become stronger teams, getting out to Canada and spreading the grass roots out there is a good start.”

Radford was also impressed with the standard of his side’s opposition, and believes that they won’t be down in the lower divisions for too long.

“At first view they should walk through that division,” said Radford. “I hope that they do and rugby league in Canada can take off. The game needs it.

“With it being televised as well there’s obviously some public interest there. If we can get some young blokes picking a ball up in Canada, make it more popular in terms of numbers, sponsorship, and TV, a bit like Catalan has.”

The Match

Toronto shocked the Challenge Cup holders by scoring the first try of the game through stand-off Blake Wallace. Their good field position was bolstered by a couple of penalties and their decision not to go for goal was rewarded with Wallace’s try — the club’s first ever — and was converted by captain, and former Hull player, Craig Hall.

Hull — wearing their away jersey so the Wolfpack could don their home black shirts with white trim on their debut — responded with three tries of their own through Albert Kelly, Jamie Shaul, and Fonua, as the game appeared to be going the way many expected prior to kick-off. After all, this was a Super League side playing against a brand new team of players participating in their first game proper.

What happened next was by far the most impressive aspect of the Wolfpack’s debut. At 16-6 down they were able to re-organise their defence which had become ragged, and add another weapon to their attack in the shape of Fuifui Moimoi who came off the bench to score.

The 37-year-old Tongan born New Zealand international is a bustling presence up front, and he was able to power his way through the Hull defence to get the Wolfpack back into the game.

As impact subs go, they don’t come much better than this.

The ever-impressive Fonua was able to grab his second for the hosts to restore Hull’s lead, but by this time the game was an even, end-to-end contest.

The half-time hooter sounded just after Toronto’s Bob Beswick had been held up over the line, with the scores at a respectable 20 points to 12.

Hull made a number of changes at half time, introducing several youngsters into the fray, but their 13 was still one of quality. Despite this they only scored once more in the second half, as both sides improved on the defensive side of the game.

Winger Jonny Pownall crossed in the corner just minutes into the second half to set the tone for the Wolfpack in this impressive second period. Less than ten minutes later Liam Kay was touching down on the opposite wing to level the scores at 20-all as Hall’s conversion from the touchline sailed just wide of the far post.

Radford’s young team were able to mount som pressure towards the end of the second half but the Wolfpack looked like they would hold out.

A good tackle from centre Greg Worthington kept the scores level, but his side went on to waste possession far too often. James Laithwaite entered the fray and made several good line-breaks, but understandable rustiness prevented the required ruthlessness in attacking areas.

This late profligacy was ultimately the Wolfpack’s downfall, and a loos offload from Hall in his own half was pounced upon by Hull who scored the match winner through Nick Rawsthorne. Curtis Naughton impressively added the extras from the touchline,

Hull may have allowed their opponents to wear their home jersey in their first outing, but they weren’t for allowing them a fairy-tale result.

Coach's Corner

Wolfpack coach Paul Rowley was disappointed that his side couldn’t win the game, which speaks volumes of his ambitions for this team.

"They probably had four key individuals that could add to that side, but we played Super League opposition today,” he said. “It certainly wasn't a reserve side, and we're disappointed we didn’t win the game.

“I thought it gave us a good starting point for our review, and we can learn a lot. We had every single player on debut today, and you don’t see that too often.

“In terms of dusting cobwebs off it's a positive day for us. We'll get a lot better. We'll practice hard because we need to fix a few things up, but those who watched will say we're not a bad side, but we know we're a lot better than that too.”

The fact that it was also a test for Hull ahead of their 2017 Super League campaign was testament to Rowley’s men. “I think we challenged Hull, and they'll have learnt things about their game,” added the Toronto coach, proud of his side’s first outing.

They were supposed to have another friendly against Wigan at Manchester City’s academy stadium, but this was cancelled due to a change in the football club’s calendar.

Rowley, however, believes his side can do without it.

“We lost the Wigan game, but it suits me,” he said. “The key for us is staying healthy. I've seen enough that we can go into a competitive match, and to know that we can go against a competitive side.

“I'd say we’re ahead of where we expected to be. These new people playing together and dishing up that like they've been playing together for years — we looked very much a team, and a settled team.”

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