Sunday, 26 March 2017

Keighley Cougars 21, Toronto Wolfpack 48: Match Report

Toronto Wolfpack aim to play an exciting expansive form of rugby league, but today their hosts initially caught them off-guard with their own inventive play.

1,128 turned up at Cougar Park to see Keighley’s game against rugby league’s new boys, and those who spent this sunny afternoon watching League 1 rugby weren’t disappointed.

An error in the opening minute gave an early impression that this would be another easy win for Toronto, but Adam Sidlow dropped the ball over the line for the Wolfpack in an unexpected first attack.

Keighley came back well, though, and forced a repeat set on the opposition line shortly after. It turned into an even, somewhat error strewn game as both sides tried things in attack.

Matty Beharrell’s kicking game was key to the home side’s good field position, and his punt to the corner was almost collected by Andy Gabriel.

Toronto drew first blood when Jonny Pownall scored on the overlap on the right wing, but Craig Hall was unable to convert from the touchline.

He was given another tough conversion when the Wolfpack crossed again when Liam Kay dove at full stretch to touch down a clever Blake Wallace grubber into the corner. Hall missed again, making the score 8-0.

The Cougars got the try their play deserved when Will Milner broke through the line, offloading to Joshua Lynham who was on hand to cross by the posts.

Beharrell took control of the game for the rest of the half, converting Lynham’s try, knocking over a penalty, and adding a drop goal before the half-time hooter to make the scores 9-8 in Keighley’s favour.

Keighley came out for the second half and scored out of nowhere from their own kick-off.

Kay and Wallace made a mess of receiving the kick, and Brad Nicholson pounced on the loose ball to claim four points.

Toronto looked out of ideas and needed to go back to the basics, doing the simple things well in order to take control of the game.

Bob Beswick did just that. Winning a penalty with a scamper from dummy-half before organising his team as they went the full length of the pitch. Wallace added the final touch of class with some fancy footwork to break the line and cross under the posts.

Hall kicked his first conversion of the game and Toronto were back in it. Their individual class then began to tell when Pownall broke through some poor Keighley defence before going the length of the field to score.

Errors crept into Keighley’s game and Hall was able to pounce on a loose offload to kick through and score, adding the extras too.

Keighley looked out of gas and out of ideas, which could be a familiar story when it comes to Toronto’s opposition this season. Amateur sides playing against a professional outfit will always struggle for fitness late in games, and this match was an example of that.

Hall put Pownall in for his hat-trick with a great pass after drawing three defenders, but again failed to convert from the touchline.

With around 10-minutes to go Keighley came up with one of the best passing moves of the game out of nowhere to make the scores 30-21. It was a second wind, and a deserved try for Beharrell. The Cougars played expansive rugby until the end, but errors prevented further progress. Two more from Sidlow and an Andrew Dixon try added to the scoreboard late on to make the final score 21-48.

It was another win for Toronto, but the performance of their opposition will have taught them a lot about the areas where they need to improve.

As they look set to take League 1 by storm it will be important that the Wolfpack take lessons from the moments their opponents are on top.

Today was also their first glimpse of summer rugby in the UK as sun shone down on West Yorkshire, and the 100s in attendance will have enjoyed the performances of both sides.

Toronto Director of Rugby Brian Noble gave man of the match to Matty Beharrell, and after the scrum-half's stand-out performance, it was fully deserved despite being on the losing side.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Toronto Wolfpack: The First Two - London & Whitehaven



From London, the South East, and a new shiny artificial pitch, to the North West, Whitehaven, a rugby heartland.

Following this team isn't just following a club, it's supporting the game, and along the journey Toronto Wolfpack have planned you'll see all it has to offer.

Hull. Siddal. London?

Toronto Wolfpack’s journey may have started in the rugby league heartlands of Yorkshire, but in their first ever game in the league they look to climb took place in unfamiliar RL territory.

Rugby league has struggled to exist in London, and many clubs have formed and failed and come and gone.

There are some similarities between the attempts to establish the game in London and the current Toronto project, but there are also many differences, which will hopefully come to light as the Wolfpack story unfolds.

But it’s here, in the shadows of soccer and rugby union, that the Canadian side’s journey begins, on the artificial turf of the White Hart Lane Community Sports Centre.

The very name of the stadium hints at soccer, with Tottenham Hotspur just down the road from this ground which is also more conveniently known as New River Stadium.

It’s a far cry from the Siddal mud. The mud up there, between Halifax and Huddersfield is proper rugby league mud, and down here they don’t even entertain it.

However, the artificial pitch suits the wolfpack down to the ground. For the first time they’re able to display the other side of their game. The silky skills, quick ball handling, and superior physical fitness which should see them walk this division.

That’s not to diminish the contributions of the London Skolars and the other teams in the league who fall way behind when it comes to resources, but stand high when it comes to giving rugby league a platform.

They are also providing a platform for the Toronto Wolfpack. Without these teams there is no league structure, no path to Super League, and no way in for an ambitious side with enviable resources.

Nevertheless, it was an easy victory for Toronto in their first game, as they an out 76-0 winners.

Craig Hall scored the side’s first try in the league, while Fuifui Moimoi grabbed a hat-trick. Head coach Paul Rowley had words of warning for future opponents regarding the Tongan-born New Zealand international.

“Moimoi is box office. I would pay money to watch him,” Rowley said. “He has a big frame and leg speed and he doesn’t have a hand brake. You don’t want to stand in his way.”

“It was the perfect start. We reminded people that we are not a bad side,” added Rowley.

“We have got some good attackers and, on a fast track like that, we could play a good brand of rugby. But our defence was strong too. We didn’t just stop them, we were quite brutal at times.”

“People want to knock us off our perch. “They want us to be arrogant. But we are not. We are humble and grounded.”

Toronto Team

1 Quentin Laulu Togaga’e
2 Jonny Pownall
3 Greg Worthington
4 Craig Hall (C)
5 Liam Kay
6 Blake Wallace
7 Rhys Jacks
8 Fuifui Moimoi
9 Bob Beswick
29 Jake Emmitt
11 Andrew Dixon
12 James Laithwaite
13 Jack Bussey

Subs
14 Gary Wheeler
19 Steve Crossley
21 Adam Sidlow
17 Richard Whiting

Tries: Hall (2), Pownall, Moimoi (3), Beswick, Kay (2), Dixon, Worthington (2), Laulu-Togagae

Goals: Hall (12)

Attendance: 1,542



The nature of this quest means that anything could be around the corner, and what came next was something completely different.

A trip up to Whitehaven brought a new test, and will have made the Toronto outfit thankful that they’d already passed a similar test at Siddal.

On England’s north-west coast, Whitehaven and west Cumbria is a hotbed of amateur rugby league.

It’s a massively underappreciated area in the game and is up there with Lancashire and Yorkshire when it comes to the heartlands of rugby league.

The area should have at least one Super League club, and there is a case to say that Whitehaven and their neighbours Workington should have been more involved in the top league by now.

Toronto Wolfpack Director of Rugby Brian Noble commented prior to the game that he’s always been an advocate of a Cumbrian based Super League side, but he finds his team facing them here in League 1.

The conditions were damp, and the pitch was a stark contrast to the 4G artificial turf down in London.

But the result was no different. Whitehaven spent last season in the Championship and put up a good fight as expected, but it was a comfortable 24-10 win for Toronto.

“People talk about our attack, but defensively, we’re pretty good. Whitehaven scored after two kicks and that’s all. We’re more than happy. We were ruthless from start to finish and by far the better team,” summarised Rowley.

Toronto Team:

1 Quentin Laula-Togaga’e
2 Jonny Pownall
4 Craig Hall (C)
3 Greg Worthington
5 Liam Kay
6 Blake Wallace
7 Rhys Jacks
21 Adam Sidlow
9 Bob Beswick
29 Jake Emmitt
11 Andrew Dixon
12 James Laithwaite
13 Jack Bussey

Subs
14 Gary Wheeler
19 Steve Crossley
21 Richard Whiting
23 Toby Everett

Tries: Hall, Kay, Beswick, Pownall

Goals: Hall (4)