Rugby·Analysis

No time to look back: Toronto Wolfpack fixated on Super League promotion

It was two years ago rugby's newest team stepped onto the field for its first competitive League match. The Toronto Wolfpack won that game, and as Nigel Reed writes, they continue to see positive results. However, they still have to work for them and were called out by their own coach after their latest match.

Rugby League squad 'celebrate' 2-year anniversary with thriller vs. Dewsbury Rams

The Toronto Wolfpack's Blake Wallace celebrates after scoring the go-ahead try against the Dewsbury Rams on Sunday at The Tetley's Stadium, Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. (Stephen Gaunt/Touchlinepics.com)

Quietly, without ceremony, the anniversary slipped by.

No fanfare, no fireworks; just another day at work for the Toronto Wolfpack.

It was two years ago rugby's newest team stepped onto the field for its first competitive League match. Allow me to refresh your memory – Fuifui Moimoi became an instant fan favourite, scoring the team's first-ever hat trick en route to a thumping victory over the London Skolars.

2017 produced a host of lopsided Wolfpack wins and a stroll to promotion. 2018 followed a similar pattern, but a ticket to Super League, and the chance to join the game's elite, was denied by the London Broncos in the Million Pound Game.

Two years on, the Wolfpack are still winning. That is to be expected. Owner David Argyle bankrolled a fully professional roster and coaching set up from the get go, a model unheard of outside Super League. Toronto has won its opening five games in year three — but now it has to work for them.

Brian McDermott is used to winning. He did it as a player and has done so as a coach. The recently hired Wolfpack bench boss knows exactly what is required to succeed in one of the most physically demanding of all contact sports.

He can also spot a fake when he sees it. He saw it on Sunday. His team won again, outscoring its opponent by four tries to one, but Big Mac was furious with the performance in general and the application of his players in particular.

'Believing their own press'

Coaches rarely criticize their own players publicly. If there are harsh words to be spoken, they are almost exclusively expressed in the privacy of the locker room, away from the prying media in the interest of team unity.

McDermott is no diplomat. Despite the victory, he called out his own team, suggesting his players were "believing their own press." He knows if this team is to take the next step, Super League opposition will ruthlessly expose such a performance.

To err is human, of course – these players are not robots and from time to time we all have a bad day at the office. But it is clear McDermott is determined to stamp out any potential bad habits before they are allowed to fester and germinate.

Psychology is a major component of the game. It is not the first time the Wolfpack has been stretched this season. Dewsbury had done their homework and despite a five-minute spell in which they leaked three tries, the Rams deserved something for their tireless effort.

WATCH | Wolfpack orchestrate huge comeback:

The Toronto Wolfpack trailed by 13 points before scoring three tries in five minutes. 1:14

Others will have taken note – in more ways than one. This was old school rugby – a muddy reminder of an era before the switch to a summer season. Will future opponents get the hoses out after seeing Toronto struggle to make clean tackles and handle the football in sloppy conditions?

Then there are the detractors. These are the armchair cynics who take every opportunity to criticize the organization and what it stands for. They are not buying the gospel of growing the global game. In their world, the Wolfpack is a greedy bunch of mercenaries. Social media is full of such vitriol.

However much it rankles, Toronto must be professional and rise above the taunts. In time the club will earn respect but not by rising to the bait. It can only be achieved by consistency of performance coupled with presenting a uniquely Canadian welcome for visiting teams and supporters.

The anniversary has come and gone. The Wolfpack is pitting itself against clubs, many of whom trace back their roots well over a century. Toronto is a rugby toddler whose mission must be to grow in its own city, build a winning culture and gift a lasting legacy to its fans.

That cannot be done in a couple of years. Let's revisit this theme in a couple of decades when all these players are long retired. Then we'll really have something to discuss.

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