As Wolfpack near regular-season title, all eyes remain on Super League prize
Toronto can lock up top spot with win over Featherstone Rovers on Saturday
There is no such thing as a 'sure-thing' in this business.
We all think we recognize a one-horse race when we see one — but it's rarely that simple.
If it were, why would we care? Part of the fascination of watching sports is that X-factor of the unknown. We may very well root for a particular team, but we don't want to know how it ends until we've received our money's worth.
This summer's hottest, can't-miss team is the Toronto Wolfpack.
Week after week, month after month, the Wolfpack continues to pile up wins. It has won 20 matches this season, and 14 consecutive since mid-March. It has a commanding 10-point lead at the top of the standings.
The Wolfpack's advantage is probably unassailable. With seven matches remaining in the regular season, it's within striking distance of locking up first place with plenty of games to spare. It could be a done deal as early as this coming weekend.
This is pretty much a slam dunk. The Wolfpack has been a model of consistency from the opening whistle and, with the exception of one poor outing in France against fellow promotion hopefuls Toulouse, it hasn't missed a beat in its quest to achieve Super League status.
Impressive is the word — but hold the parade plans.
Eyes on the prize
Finishing first helps, but it is not the endgame. Wolfpack fans know only too well it is merely a stepping stone along the way. The promotion playoffs are where the winners and losers are separated and ultimately there is only one game to decide a single champion.
As good as the Wolfpack has been in 2019, Coach Brian McDermott knows his team is guaranteed nothing. It is without question the best-equipped and highest-funded team outside Super League, but Toronto cannot expect to coast into the top flight. Many others share the same dream and hunger.
WATCH | Wolfpack crush Batley Bulldogs on Canada Day weekend:
Among them is one of rugby's grand old clubs. Featherstone Rovers — built in a coal-mining community at the turn of the 20th century — has seen it all. The elation of championships and Cup glory has been mixed with the ignominy of financial administration.
Rovers are next in line to test the Wolfpack (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET, CBCSports.ca). As is stands, Featherstone is among the chasing pack, but unlike Toronto it has little room for error. Rovers arrive in Canada in fourth place with a trio of clubs breathing down its neck in the final push for playoff berths.
If it's anything like the last time they went head to head, it promises to be a thriller. The Wolfpack ultimately got the better of Featherstone — but the outcome was in the balance until the final five minutes. Andrew Dixon's late try gave Toronto a decisive lead before Matty Russell completed his hat trick.
Rival Rovers present challenge
In addition, Featherstone has a habit of rising to the occasion. With the exception of Toronto, it has beaten all of its major rivals in recent months, and will bring a little inside knowledge to The Den this weekend.
Jack Bussey will not be acting as tour guide. He'll be in town to try and steal a match on his former teammates. Bussey was a Wolfpack original in 2017 and a firm fan favourite. Now back at Featherstone where he began his career, Bussey's insight could be vital.
The Wolfpack has a cushion but it also has a target on its back. The match up with Featherstone is the last in Toronto for almost a month. The sooner the team claims first place, the better.
The Wolfpack will need rested, healthy, confident bodies when the pressure of the playoffs knocks on its door.