Toronto Wolfpack will be playing in the Super League next year after defeating Featherstone Rovers 24-6 at Lamport Stadium in the Betfred Championship Grand Final. Here’s our verdict…
Rovers got their reward for a superb defensive effort to keep the hosts at bay early on when Alex Sutcliffe finished for a converted try following Dane Chisholm’s perfectly-weighted kick.
Toronto responded immediately through Josh McCrone, but the missed conversion by Gareth O’Brien meant they trailed 6-4 at half-time.
Rovers kept battling after the break, but further tries from Blake Wallace, Bodene Thompson and Joe Mellor clinched the win and a historic promotion for the Canadian side..
Featherstone, who finished 18 points behind the Wolfpack in the Championship, knocked their hosts of their stride with their energetic defence in a fast and furious opening.
O’Brien was held up over the line and Jon Wilkin was hauled down just short as the home side turned up the pressure, which paid off when interchange man Wallace forced his way over on 56 minutes to give them the lead for the first time before supplying a try-scoring pass for second-rower Thompson.
Full-back O’Brien converted both tries to open up a 10-point lead and stand-off Mellor made sure of the win and promotion when he jinked his way through a tiring Featherstone defence 11 minutes from time.
Wallace added the conversion and kicked a last-minute penalty to wrap up the scoring.
History In the Making
The world’s first professional transatlantic sporting team will become the first Club outside of Europe to compete in the Super League when the 2020 season gets underway in February.
An extremely ambitious venture since day one, the Wolfpack organisation has achieved its five year plan, built on progressing through the ranks to reach the top division, in just three seasons, and in front of a record crowd.
Wasn’t To Be
Featherstone, too, had high hopes of reaching Super League for the first time after gaining play-off away wins over three of the teams to finish above them in the table – Leigh Centurions, York City Knights and Toulouse Olympique – but this proved to be a game too far.
Rovers, who became the first away team to win at the Lamport Stadium in July 2018, had spent 24 hours getting from their previous game in the south of France to Ontario and the home side took advantage of their tired bodies in the second half.
Back Where He Belongs
Promotion also means that Wolfpack Head Coach Brian McDermott will be returning to the Super League, a competition that he has won seven times as a player and coach.
McDermott has further built upon his reputation during his first year with the Wolfpack. Toronto dropped just one game in 2019, finishing the season with a remarkable 28-1 record.
He will now look to build on his legacy when he returns with the Wolfpack next year and push for a place in the play-offs.
One Last Time…
On a day when feel-good stories were not difficult to find, perhaps the most heart-warming of all was the successful end to the playing career of Ashton Sims, a 17-year love letter to the sport of Rugby League.
While Sims himself would never admit it, the desire to send one of the most team-oriented players in world sport off on a high note undoubtedly added extra motivation to the Wolfpack squad as they took the field on Saturday afternoon.
After raising the League Leaders Shield in 2018 but falling agonisingly short of promotion just weeks later, Sims’ pure joy was on display for all to see when the referee’s whistle ended the 2019 Season and confirmed the Wolfpack’s promotion.
Toronto + 24
Tries: McCrone (32), Wallace (57), Thompson (62), Mellor (70)
Goals: O’Brien (2) Wallace (2)
Drop Goals: n/a
Featherstone + 06
Tries: Sutcliffe (6)
Goals: Chisholm (1)
Drop Goals: n/a
Toronto: O’Brien; Kay, Stanley, Leutele, Russell; Mellor, McCrone; Mullally, Ackers, Sims, Dixon, Thompson, Wilkin.
Interchanges: Wallace, Lussick, Olbinson, Springer.
Featherstone: Golding; Render, Hardcastle, Sutcliffe, Johnson; Chisholm, McLelland; Davies, Jones, Ormondroyd, Bussey, Harrison, Lockwood.
Interchanges: Albert, Cooper, Makatoa, King.