The Wolfpack is Toronto's best-kept secret
The travelling circus is back. So cue the beer garden and the dancing girls.
The world's first transatlantic sports franchise has touched down in Canada and is champing at the bit to perform in front of the home fans.
Toronto Wolfpack's season is well underway. So far, so good. It has won 10 of its 11 games, good for a four-point cushion at the top of the Betfred Championship — the middle tier of the Rugby League.
The aim remains unchanged. As the midway point of Season 3 approaches, the Wolfpack has its sights set on a promotion. Super League represents the sport's elite and Toronto wants to be among its number in 2020.
It is a realistic goal. Brian McDermott, who took over as head coach at the start of the season, has won every honour in the game, and many of his players have either Super League experience or have played in the NRL — Australia's top division.
In simple terms, the Wolfpack is too good not to move up. But just like every other team, it must prove itself over a 27-game regular season, followed by the nerve-wracking promotion playoffs. Only one team goes up — everyone else goes home disappointed.
Despite its feats, the Wolfpack is Toronto's best-kept secret. Slowly but surely the club is forcing its way into the psyche of the city's success-starved fans but there is no shortage of options for their sports dollars.
It has attracted a loyal following to its home games at Lamport Stadium. The Den, as it has become known, gets pretty full and the game day atmosphere is vibrant and boisterous. The Wolfpack has gone out of its way to build a fan base and introduce a new audience to the game.
But the Wolfpack must keep winning. Toronto sports fans have had enough of mediocrity. It's tough enough to ask fans to embrace a sport of which they may have little or no knowledge. A winning team makes the task of persuasion a little easier.
It has been a hectic schedule. The team and its coaching staff arrived in Toronto on Tuesday, hard on the heels of a successful Easter program. On Good Friday, Gareth O'Brien and Blake Wallace both scored hat tricks in a comprehensive win over Barrow.
Three days later, on Easter Monday, the Wolfpack was fully tested. In a classic arm wrestle, Toronto was given all it could handle by Featherstone Rovers. The Wolfpack had just enough left in the tank to score two late tries and extend the winning streak to five games.
Pressure to keep winning
The pressure to keep winning won't go away. McDermott is planning for the long haul. He is gradually signing players who can win games for him now and at the next level. The club must build from a position of strength, not with a radical recruitment drive at season's end.
In a sense, the Wolfpack's current roster is on an elongated trial. McDermott will continue to assess individual performances and the mood in the locker room. It is essential his players are gelling on and off the field, so when Super League becomes reality he has a solid base from which to work.
That starts with bedding down in Toronto. For some, including McDermott himself, it is a first visit to Canada where the excitement of a being in a new city can be a distraction in itself. There will be little time for sight seeing as the Wolfpack prepares for its home opener.
As in 2018, the Swinton Lions are the first visitors. They were well beaten last year and have won only twice this season. The Wolfpack should have few problems registering another victory, but cannot afford to become complacent.
One thing is certain. A festival atmosphere awaits and the Wolfpack will be hungry to mark its return to The Den with a convincing win.
Attention all residents: it's about to get noisy again down in Liberty Village.