London shock Toronto to seal the final Super League spot. Here’s our verdict…
Toronto looked to have made a brilliant start inside the first minute, when Alex Walker spilled the kick on the last at the end of their first set and they ran in for the try, but the video referee – eventually – decided the chasing Gareth O’Brien was offside and the score was chalked off.
London began to get on top after that, and exerted real pressure following a penalty and two Wolfpack knock ons. After another penalty their way, for a high tackle, Jarrod Sammut took the two points to edge his side in front.
They kept on the front foot and might have got the first try if Eloi Pelissier had had some support after breaking through the line a minute later. Instead he had to take the tackle, and Sammut’s kick was beyond the reach of Kieran Dixon.
The home side built some pressure after that, and after Ben Hellewell was penalised for a tip tackle, Bob Beswick was held up before Walker defended the kick well on the last tackle.
A better chance for them came out of the blue, as a misplaced London pass on the attack allowed Mason Caton-Brown to pinch the ball ahead of Elliot Kear and kick downfield. His dribbling skills took him close to the line, but he knocked on as he tried to pick the ball up.
The chances started to dry up as errors cost both sides in possession, with London just edging the forward battle but happy to play for position and aim kicks for touch to keep Toronto at distance.
Josh McCrone was inches away from the first try for the Wolfpack from an improvised move, when O’Brien found Matty Russell on the wing and he passed back inside to Wheeler, but the half-back couldn’t get his fingers to the kick before it went dead.
Their cause was not made any easier with the sin binning of Andy Ackers eight minutes before the break for an off-the-ball tackle on Pelissier, as their frustration began to show.
They failed to take another chance after O’Brien’s kick and Nick Rawsthorne’s tackle forced a drop out, and instead it almost led to a London try as a loose pass allowed Sammut and Dixon to dribble downfield before the bounce favoured Caton-Brown to recover.
With a minute to go before the break, McCrone made a good drive for the line but was held up on the last play, with that defensive effort epitomising their whole approach to the first half which earned them a 2-0 lead into the break.
Toronto came out with more endeavour at the start of the second half though and, with the full complement of players back on the field, a good run and kick from McCrone earned a drop out, although they couldn’t take advantage of the repeat set on that occasion.
A penalty brought them forward again though and Ackers slipped the ball to Ashton Sims, who looked to drive his considerable frame over the line. The decision went to the video referee, with the replays showing another remarkable defensive effort from the Broncos to stop the ball being grounded.
They finally got their first points on the board, when Sammut kicked out on the full and Pelissier then gave a penalty away for a ball steal on the first tackle. O’Brien looked for the sticks from range, and was spot on to level the scores.
However, they made a big error straight from the restart as Blake Wallace failed to claim the kick. A shoulder charge from Jack Buchanan conceded a penalty on the first tackle from the drop out, and Sammut received the kicking tee to edge London back in front.
With an attritional battle continuing in the middle, the next chance for points came with a harsh call of a shoulder charge against Sammut. O’Brien lined up the kick from 40m out, but couldn’t find the target.
A massive opportunity for a try soon followed, with good footwork from Blake Wallace slicing the London defence open for the first time in the whole game. Full-back Walker was the last line of defence, and made a heroic tackle to stop the half-back from scoring over the line.
At the end of the set there was more drama, as McCrone’s kick flew around the in-goal area with no player able to get a decisive touch.
The frustration, and desperation, of the Wolfpack was becoming clear to see, and it was summed up with five minutes to go when a penalty gave them a great chance to attack, only for McCrone to kick early in the set with Rhys Williams cleaning up for London.
From that point London just needed to play the game out, and they did so brilliantly. The forwards made no errors, Sammut looked for touch with his kicks, and when Dixon put a big hit on Matty Russell to force his opposing winger into touch, they were a minute from getting the job done.
A thunderous shot from Tom Spencer then left Bob Beswick in trouble on the ground right at the end, and he had to be stretchered off in an unfortunate end to the game. London ran down the final ten seconds, and kicked into touch to seal their Super League return.
WHAT WE’VE LEARNED
The Broncos are back
London sealed a return to Super League after four seasons in the second tier, and did it as the underdogs in the most remarkable fashion.
It was all about the defensive effort, which was sensational from start to the finish to deny Toronto an inch all game. A number of times they had to keep players out over the line, and despite not scoring a try themselves they didn’t need to as they kept out the star-studded Wolfpack at the other end.
Anti-climax for Toronto
The game was all set for the perfect conclusion to Toronto’s two-year march through the lower leagues, but London upset all the odds to deny them a Super League place in 2019.
They were far from their best, with the forwards simply laying no platform as the big boys were bullied in the middle by their opponents.
Man of the Match – Alex Walker
Any number of the London forwards could have taken this award in a remarkable effort from the first minute to the last, but their young full-back stood out for a brilliant performance behind them.
After a mistake in the opening minute he was flawless from then on, and made an incredible tackle to deny Wallace late on in the game.
Toronto Wolfpack 2
Drop Goals: n/a
London Broncos 4
Goals: Sammut (2)
Drop Goals: n/a
Toronto: O’Brien; Caton-Brown, Rawsthorne, Wheeler, Russell; McCrone, Wallace; Lussick, Beswick, Sims; Dixon, Whiting, Emmitt.
Interchanges: Buchanan, Ackers, Sidlow, Higson.
London: Walker; Williams, Kear, Hellewell, Dixon; Pitts, Sammut; Evans, Pelissier, Ioane; Gee, Lovell, Hindmarsh.
Interchanges: Spencer, Battye, Butler, Davies.
Referee: Chris Kendall