After beating one amateur and two semi-pro sides, the Toronto Wolfpack face a stiffer challenge from the fully professional London Broncos on Friday in the fourth round of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup.
The Wolfpack, rugby league’s first transatlantic team, outscored their first two Kingstone Press League 1 opponents by a combined 100-10 in the third tier of English rugby league. An amateur opponent was dispatched 14-6 in an earlier Cup match.
The Broncos are cut from a different cloth.
While no longer a member of the elite Super League, the London team stands fourth in the second-tier Championship with a 4-2-0 record and, like the Wolfpack, plays rugby league for a living.
The difference is the Broncos, once owned by Virgin boss Richard Branson, have been around in one form or another for 37 years. The Wolfpack, with just three competitive games under their belt, are very much a work in progress.
“We’re huge underdogs,” Toronto Wolfpack coach Paul Rowley said. “But we’ll go as confident as ever.”
“I’m not sure if it’s a yardstick … but it’s a challenge and we love a challenge. And I love being an underdog,” he added.
Rowley estimated the Broncos’ budget is double that of his team.
“If you go totally off money, then by all accounts they should be beating us convincingly,” said the Toronto coach. “But we all know a little bit better, that sports is not just about that. Whilst we’ll be underdogs, we’re not going just to take part and make up the numbers. We’re going there for a result.”
London coach Andrew Henderson sees it as a more even affair, although he concedes as the home side playing in a higher division, the Broncos will be “slight favourites.”
“I’d hate to be a bookie this week,” he said. “It’s be a tough game to call.”
Henderson says the Wolfpack have brought excitement to the rugby league and the wider world of sport, given Toronto’s bold ambitions to win promotion to the top tier.
“This is really history in the making. It’s fantastic that we’ve got this transatlantic fixture with two high-quality teams that are evenly matched,” said the English-born, Australian-raised Henderson, who played internationally for Scotland by virtue of his Glasgow-born father.
While Henderson says it’s early days when it comes to rating the Wolfpack, “they certainly, for me, wouldn’t look out of place in the Championship … But I certainly believe that that Toronto squad has the capability to develop into a Super League side in future years.”
Toronto will be without prop Fruitful Moimoi (suspended) and centre Greg Worthington (ribs).
“All I can ask is we stay healthy because we’ve got such a small squad,” said Rowley.
Henderson says his team, coming off a 19-6 league loss to Halifax RLFC, also has some injury concerns.
Toronto played in a mudbath last Sunday in a 24-10 win at Whitehaven. The footing will be far better Friday given the artificial turf surface at the Broncos’ Trailfinders Sports Club home.
Rowley, a former England hooker, says conditions don’t matter to his team.
“We’ll play anybody, anywhere, any time” he said. “We can play good rugby or we can tough it up the middle. Either one.”
The game is one of 12 Cup matches this weekend.
The competition gets harder for the survivors with Super League teams, depending on league position, entering the draw in the fifth and sixth rounds.
The knockout tournament dates back to 1897.
NOTES: Starting March 26, Wolfpack games will be streamed live at CBCSports.ca, as well as made available on the CBC Sports app. The matches will still be shown live on Game TV.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press