Wolfpack begin push for top-tier status less than 2 years after debut
Toronto competing in Super 8s Qualifiers for berth to Super League
It has been just 525 days since the Toronto Wolfpack debuted in the third tier of English rugby league with a 76-0 demolition of London Skolars.
Toronto finished first in the third-tier League 1 in 2017 and topped the second-tier Betfred Championship this year.
"No matter what happens, we've already achieved remarkable success," said coach Paul Rowley. "But it's sport. In sport, it's about what you do next. And our next job in hand is to have a crack at promotion to Super League."
While the top eight teams in the Super League fight it out to see which two make it to the Grand Final, the bottom four Super League franchises join the top four Championship sides in the so-called Super 8s Qualifiers.
The eight teams play each other once. The top three finishers will earn status in the Super League while No. 4 will take on No. 5 in what is dubbed the Million Pound Game to see who joins them.
Game 1 set for Sunday
Toronto (20-2-1 in regular-season play) opens Sunday at Halifax RLFC (16-6-1), which finished fourth in the Championship.
The Super League teams involved are Leeds Rhinos (8-13-2), Hull Kingston Rovers (8-14-1), Salford Red Devils (7-16-0) and Widnes Vikings (3-20-0). The other Championship sides are London Broncos (16-6-1) and France's Toulouse Olympique (16-6-1).
While Rowley says the Championship teams will be "very much the underdogs," London Broncos stirred things up Thursday by edging Super League Widnes 21-20 in the opening game of the Qualifiers.
Halifax is the lone part-time team taking part in the Super 8s Qualifiers. While it lost both meetings with Toronto this season (20-6 at Halifax on Feb. 18 and 42-10 at London on April 28), Halifax has won six of its last seven.
"They're a good team," said Rowley, a former England hooker. "They finished where they should finish. They're getting the best of the part-time players. A lot of their players could be full-time but they earn more money with job and part-time. They never underachieve, that's for sure. They're a very, very good team.
"Confidence, momentum in sports is a big thing so it's going to be an all-mighty challenge."
Win streak back at zero
A 30-12 loss to Featherstone Rovers in the regular-season finale July 28 snapped an 18-game Toronto win streak in league play that dated back to a 47-16 loss at London Broncos on Feb. 25.
Rowley expects the level of play to be high in the post-season, given the high stakes,
"Super League teams play at a high level week in, week out against the elite players and elite teams ... And we've seen this year that the Championship's been tough bottom to top. So certainly the top four [Championship teams] are very tough games."
Toronto will be without centre Greg Worthington and winger Adam Higson, both out for the season. Worthington needs surgery after ripping up his knee while Higson, who was sidelined earlier in the season by a broken collarbone, is out because a plate inserted after the original injury has bent and the bone has broken again.