Rugby is one of the toughest sports on the planet as giant sized men plough into each other with unyielding relentlessness. As hard as that may seem however, it isn’t as hard as trying to break through the already crowded sports market in this city to claim a portion of a Toronto fan’s entertainment dollar. But yet, here is where the Toronto Wolfpack find themselves; a team that must not only win on the field of battle, but do so in an entertaining manner to help build a fanbase on this side of the Atlantic.
The Wolfpack are the first transatlantic sports team as they play in the Kingstone Press League 1 which is the Third tier of the English league. Their ultimate goal is to play in the top flight division and hope to accomplish that feat within the first five years of its existence. It certainly is an aggressive timeline, but one can worry about that in the future. For now however, the Wolfpack are focusing on the two goals of winning and entertaining. If Saturday’s first-ever league game against the London Skolars is any indication then they are well on their way to achieving them.
The 76-0 Toronto Wolfpack victory was a grand statement that spoke volumes to fans across both continents. If you had to reread that score several times, don’t worry about it, it’s natural. The score is correct and it does take some time for the 76-0 set in. The score showed those in the Americas that this team can be successful right out of the gate and is not your typical new team. Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves as one game does not a season make. There are many obstacles still to overcome but if they are met with the same grit, determination, power and focus as this opening match was, they will more than hold their own on the pitch and continue to earn our respect regardless of the outcome.
From an entertainment perspective it is hard to imagine a team like this and a game like rugby not taking firm root in Toronto. If you look at this city’s sporting heroes, Toronto always makes room for the hard working common man. Players such as Tie Domi, Jerome “Junkyard Dog” Williams and Darcy Tucker always have had a place in our hearts. The Wolfpack has an entire team of players that leave it on the field each time they play and seriously though… how can you not cheer for a guy named Fuifui Moimoi (#10 in the video below)? He scored three tries (a try is 4 points) on Saturday and it is so much fun watching people trying to stop this man (who is the size of a locomotive) once he gets going.
— Sky Sports RL 🏉 (@SkySportsRL) February 25, 2017
The difficult part for the Wolfpack will be how to get a foothold in this city. Being in the third tier doesn’t bode well as teams such as the Raptors 905, Toronto FC II, the Brampton Beast and even the Toronto Marlies are not finding it easy. It’s also hard to build momentum as they play overseas for the first few months and don’t have their first home game until May. This means they are up against teams that have been hugely successful in the past few years as the Blue Jays and TFC and with a little luck (and less injuries) the Raptors may be in another deep playoff run as well. That is difficult for any team to get noticed, let alone one from a sport that casual fans have little understanding off.
It will be difficult, but not impossible. Toronto FC are a great example (at least off the field for the first decade) of how to grow a sports team in this city. It might take rugby more to catch on because as I mentioned, people are not as familiar with the sport as they are with soccer. The Wolfpack can take the WEE approach (Win. Entertain. Educate) to be successful.
Finally, if we care to admit it, this city for the longest of times suffered from a lack of confidence. We didn’t like to say we were great because that seemed egotistical and biased, so we relied on others to say it for us. Well in three games that the Wolfpack have played, there has already been double the amount of interest. They have had better than average attendance in the stands and better than average numbers through live streaming. According to head coach Paul Rowley he speculates that fans from his native England have been tuning in to see the North American squad fail as they are unlikely to want to see a team from across the ocean be successful at their game. This crushing defeat may have flamed that hatred even more and nothing spurs a team’s fanbase faster than a good rivalry. It is easy to see how this opening weekend couldn’t have gone any better for the Wolfpack, now they must be able to continually build on it to keep the momentum for the entire season.