TORONTO â€” As CEO of the Rugby Football League, Nigel Wood was in Toronto last spring to attend the launch of the Wolfpack.
And he has liked what he’s seen in the months since.
“I think they’ve had a very exciting baptism. They’ve certainly been very competitive on the field,” Wood told The Canadian Press. “And we’re looking forward to seeing the reaction of the Toronto sports public to their first game this weekend.”
Wood, who is also chairman of the Rugby League International Federation, was speaking from Australia where he was attending meetings and taking in the Australia-New Zealand test match.
The Wolfpack, who have won all five of their league matches in England, debut at home Saturday against Oxford RLFC (2-2-0) at Lamport Stadium.
Toronto, the sport’s first transatlantic team, has started life in the third tier of English rugby league â€” the Kingstone Press League 1. Its goal is to win promotion first to the second-tier Championship and then the elite Super League.
Wood says he always had confidence in the Wolfpack’s ownership and believed putting a team in Toronto was a “terrific opportunity” for rugby league to get ahead of other sports looking at transatlantic play.
“That’s not to say that there aren’t still things to prove, because there are,” he said. “I will say that fundamentally the first 12 months of this club’s existence have been an absolute success.”
The Wolfpack have drawn worldwide attention both to the sport and England’s third tier, with rival teams benefiting at the box office when Toronto comes to town. But pitting the fully professional Wolfpack against semi-pro opposition has resulted in some lopsided scores â€” Toronto’s last two league wins were 80-0 over the North Wales Crusaders and 82-6 over Doncaster RLFC.
The Wolfpack, who top the table, have outscored their opposition 310-37.
Toulouse Olympique XIII had a similar rampaging run last year when it entered the same league as Toronto. The French team won promotion after a 13-0-1 season that saw it outscore its opposition 702-184.
Wood says there is an expectation in British sports that when teams join “the professional pyramid,” they do so at the bottom level and have to earn their spurs.
Starting at the bottom also allows teams “to knock any teething problems out of their operation” before moving up. And while he says the Wolfpack came out of the blocks as favourites to win League 1, that won’t necessarily be the case in the Championship.
Wood’s schedule hasn’t allowed him to attend the Toronto home debut but he says the RFL has officials in town.
“We want to see firsthand the size of the crowd, the reaction of the public, just how much excitement it creates in the Toronto market.”
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press