As Toronto Wolfpack enter the third tier of British Rugby League this season they will make history as the first ever professional transatlantic sports team. The Wolfpack is the brainchild of Canadian Eric Perez who is the CEO of the club. Nothingbutleague spoke to Eric Perez back in 2016 and can be read here.
The man to take charge of the team is Paul Rowley. Rowley played fourteen years with two spells at hometown club Leigh Centurions beginning and ending his career with the Leythers and had spells at Halifax and Huddersfield Giants. He was also the head coach of the Centurions from 2012 to the eve of last season when he sensationally resigned to the shock of most in RL. He was unveiled as the Wolfpack head coach at the launch of the club on April 27th 2016.
When leaving the Centurions ten days before the 2016 season Rowley felt that he had “finished with the game and felt dissapointed and disillusioned and was done.” Rowley was part of a successful Centurions side that dominated the championship while he was at the club winning the division in 2014 & 2015 but failed to find promotion to Super League in 2015 part of the new middle 8’s era.
When asked about why Toronto was the club for him to come back to after previously giving up on the game. “Toronto wasn’t something you expect to get a phone call from, therefore it triggered my interest it allows me to see the world and for me there’s no downside.”
Rowley’s resignation stunned the entire British game and certainly stunned Eric Perez who was in the country when the news broke about Rowley. Paul and Eric had a friendly relationship and Rowley had agreed to help Perez interview a coach for his side when the club entered the leagues. But after discussions between Perez, Rowley and Brian Noble who was going to take the head coaches role. Perez offered the role to Rowley and after discussions with his family who had promised a summer holiday with after many years on missing out due to Rowley’s involvement within rugby league. Further talking about the decision to take the head coach role “Toronto isn’t just about Rugby League, it’s about making a difference to the game and putting it on a different platform, once again there’s no downside.”
The Wolfpack have assembled a squad which varies in experience and nationalities. The squad includes the likes of Fui Fui Moi Moi who is a former NRL player playing at international level for New Zealand & Tonga but also includes the likes of Chad Bain who the Wolfpack have signed on the back of tryouts around North America & Jamaica and was named man of the match in the tralists game v Brighouse Rangers. “We aim to have a 24-26 man squad with 4-5 developmental players so we will be running on a tight squad, we have several lads with North American Passports which is what we aiming for.”
Toronto were due to have two friendly games against Hull & Wigan but that has now been reduced to one after the Wigan friendly which the Wolfpack were “hosting” on the Ethiad campus has been cancelled due to Manchester City having a rearranged fixture. Speaking on the two fixtures Rowley said “It’s pretty brutal but its a huge mark of respect and privilege. The Wigan match was due to be an event not just an rugby match.”
The club’s first five competitive games will be in the UK with games against London Skolars, Whitehaven, Keighley, Doncaster and North Wales before Oxford become the first opponents to travel to Toronto and take on the Wolfpack at Lamport Stadium. Rowley speaking about his side’s schedule said “The fixtures couldn’t have been any more unkind to us its a challenging schedule but rugby league is challenging.” At several points throughout the season the club will have several six day turnarounds with flights back to Canada for their home games. Rowley has dismissed claims this will be a problem. “The six hour flight and the turnaround is something we will deal with but we are not really fussed about it.”
With the games being in blocks rather than the traditional home & away the Wolfpack needed a base while playing in the UK. Their plan was initially to share Bradford’s training facilities at Tong but this was scrapped and the Wolfpack have found their home at Brighouse where themseleves and Brighouse Rangers are sharing facilities. “This is a long term project which can help both the Wolfpack and Rangers progress. The partnership with Brighouse is delightful and we have been welcomed.” said Rowley. “We wanted to attract players from both sides of the Pennines and therefore didn’t want to be tied down on one side, we are right in the middle here so that has helped us.”
Many within the game have claimed that Toronto should dominate League 1 next season after assembling an highly experienced and skillful squad with bookmakers SkyBet offering odds of evens of the Wolfpack going unbeaten their entire league campaign. Rowley dismissed this saying “League 1 is a tough league, there is probably seven teams who can beat each other on their day. The favourites tag doesn’t really bother us but if there is anyone of our players walking round with that mentality I’ll soon knock them down, we will be respectful and humble in victory and dignified in defeat that’s how it works. The favourites is for everyone else, its certainly not for us and will not be festering in our camp.”
CEO Eric Perez has made no secret about how their aim for the Wolfpack is Super League and coach Rowley has agreed but says a timeframe shouldn’t be put on it. “Super League is the aim but its the timeframe that it’s going to be done. League 1 is the frying pan and if you’re lucky enough to get promoted then the championship is the fire. The owner is all about development he wants Americans and Canadians to watch rugby, there certainly has been no timescale set on the club reaching Super League.”
Toronto take on Hull FC this Sunday 22nd January at the KC stadium in Hull and the game can be seen live on Premier Sports in the UK.
All at nothingbutleague wish Paul Rowley & the Toronto Wolfpack well in the inaugural season in 2017.