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The Roar

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Are Super League really going to refuse entry to Toronto?

They do things differently out on rugby league's edges. Just look at Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Expert
16th July, 2018
91

Your columnist has been taken to task more than once here for being an Anglophile.

And it’s true, I am something of an Anglophile. Months-old copies of Open Rugby, blurry vision of Peter Sterling taking on Brett Kenny at Wembley and …. Dr Who loom large in my childhood memory.

Rugby league in England is an outsider sport and I guess I see myself as an outsider. Liking English rugby league, for a kid from Wollongong, was like having your cake and eating it too – you could share an interest with the class bullies while simultaneously setting yourself apart from them.

More recently we’ve seen an issue that stoked passions here and elsewhere that seemed to fit the cosy narrative of the English as the good guys: the Denver Test.

Here were the English players standing up to their clubs to travel to America for an important event in the build-up to 2025 World Cup, while the Aussies did their best to sabotage it. It was something that continued last week with an ARLC statement that reheated some old ideas, told the 2019 British Lions to stay home and went to great lengths to block a repeat of the Denver Test next year.

Tom Burgess England Rugby League 2017

Tom Burgess in action for England (Image: NRL)

Brits: goodies; Aussies: baddies. It all seemed so simple.

But in recent days I’ve got wind of strong suggestions that the Toronto Wolfpack, the most adventurous and ambitious club in the history of our sport, may be blocked from taking part in Super League next year.

They are expected to be told by the end of this month.

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Perhaps it would suit the opposition of Super League clubs towards the Super Eights concept for this year’s instalment to be a sham, with one club taking part the way Melbourne did when they were stripped of premiership points – for nothing.

Imagine the humiliation of legitimately early promotion but it being denied anyway.

The scepticism towards the Wolfpack has seeped out at the worst possible time for them. New Super League chief executive Robert Elstone was asked on the Whippets and Flatcaps podcast if he was excited about the club.

“Really honestly … they probably make me slightly nervous because in one sense they can been exciting but anyone who’s been in the sport a long time can tell you there isn’t a great record in terms of making those expansions stick,” Elstone answered.

“We are ultimately backing the intensions and actions of one individual. His actions to date have been positive. His intentions have been great today but we can’t be certain they are going to be great in five years’ time.

“We can’t afford to turn our back on anybody in that respect. It is clearly very random. You talk about expansion, you would go where there’s a natural footprint or players, participation, audience.

“There isn’t that. But there’a a guy who’s prepared – seemingly – to invest in making sure there is a future there. I think we have to proceed with optimism but a degree of caution.”

He earlier revealed: “I’ve asked for a report on Toronto. I’ve asked for due diligence done today, I’ve asked for projected future due diligence, I’ve asked for what the promised terms are in terms of any future commercial arrangements and I’ve asked where they sit in terms of minimum standards and one of the minimum standards is playing a home-and-away season.”

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Hull KR’s Neil Hudgell, on the seriousaboutrl.com site, added this: “It could be fabulous, it could open up the TV markets in North America, what’s the problem with Toronto is the logistics of getting there and fixture scheduling!

“So there’s some due diligence that still needs to be done with Toronto, that should have been done before they were allowed into competition.

“Super League clubs are being asked to deal with some of the issues, that should never have been issues if the due diligence had been done in the first place.

“I’ve met the owner of Toronto, he’s a very passionate guy and he’s a top businessman and there is some potential but at the minute I think the jury is wondering about the longevity of it and how it fits with the Super League competition.

“On the logistic side of it, as on the strategic side of it, there’s no way they can repeat this year’s championship, without compromising the integrity of the competition.

“And if weather-wise, climate-wise they can’t play at home for three months, that really is a serious problem that has to be addressed.

“I have a real long-standing issue about integrity, compromising integrity, and there are things that compromise integrity of the competition.

“Fixtures are one, visas another, so for example Kenny Edwards can get into France, can’t get into the UK, so that’s an advantage.

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“There’s a whole range of things that the game needs to tackle on that.

“I don’t want to be downbeat on the Toronto experience, but I do think it hasn’t been given the necessary due diligence, before they were given entry to the competition.”

Toronto Wolfpack's Ryan Burroughs scores a try

While it’s easy to see why Super League owners wouldn’t want another Paris St Germain in the competition, do they really expect an organisation that has spent so much already and won two lower division titles in as many years to simply go away and play in the Championship again because there’s no roof on their grandstand or no corporate boxes at Lamport Stadium?

The club has already said publicly it will take games on the road next year when Toronto is too cold – not just London but places like Barcelona and even Shanghai!

Are we really going to turn away a club with this sort of vision, willing to pay for all incoming teams, with the entire North American beach head at stake, which legitimately wins it’s way to promotion?

If so, it may just be the biggest own-goal in rugby league history; only to be eclipsed by blowing the 2025 World Cup in North America (and that will probably happen too).

All of it at a time when Super League itself has become such a depressing backwater and is fighting over crumbs with lower division teams who can’t field 17 players each week?

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Those sides hold the aces as they would all have to agree to the Super Eights being ditched.

How can Super League get its way? By blocking someone who wins the Super Eights from coming up, that’s how?

And just so we don’t get our cars egged in Bradford, why not block the Canadians? They won’t picket our offices, they live too far away.

This organisation has signed NRL players, happily started at the bottom of a league where crowds are sometimes counted in the dozens, flew teams across the Atlantic and housed them, smiled in the face of freeloaders and leaches and is now about about to be betrayed at the final hurdle.

I was wrong. The Aussies don’t have a mortgage on self-immolating greed and narrow-mindedness.

Clearly not by a long stretch.