Thinking that a professional rugby team could exist in North America, or Toronto specifically, may at one time have been considered a fairy tale. After many years of hard work by a number of people however, it is a reality. The Toronto Wolfpack have just begun to pen their history and they have already quite the tale to tell winning each of the first five games of their Kingstone Press League One season.
Now it must be said that this squad is being built for bigger and bigger challenges in the future so their skill level might eclipse most of the 16 teams in this Tier 3 league; but when you win by scores like 82-6, 76-0 and 80-0, well, that’s just vicious proving this wolf has bite.
Over the last couple of months, news of the Wolfpack’s successful exploits have made splashes on both sides of the pond. This past Thursday however, local media had its first live look at the team as they prepare for their first game on home soil and the very first professional rugby game on this side of the Atlantic.
Now don’t give up on the fairy tale motif just yet though. Despite the fact that most of the players are from the United Kingdom, the team is being painted by English Rugby fans as the big, bad wolf and how dare anyone representing a North American city try to beat them at their own game. From top to bottom however, the Wolfpack organization are having fun with that notion and are relishing their role as villain.
“I hope so,” coach Paul Rowley said during practice on Thursday, “we don’t mind being a villain. That’s alright. But you know, people talking about us good or bad, we’ll take that as a positive.”
The team is getting noticed and not only by those that enjoy the sport of rugby. The NFL for example has mentioned how they would love a team in London, England. They are watching to see how well the first ever trans-Atlantic team does. Therefore the Wolfpack know that to be successful, they must successfully mark their territory in the Toronto sporting landscape. With the Maple Leafs on the rise and the Raptors, TFC and Blue Jays all having participated in a postseason; this is not an easy task.
This is uncharted territory and there are no GPS devices or Google Maps to help chart the road to success. But management have an excellent understanding of the sporting culture in the GTA and it’s not hard to believe that fans will identify with the sport of rugby and this team. The pack will grow and grow and grow.
“I think a very popular t-shirt is Toronto vs Everybody” CEO Eric Perez said, “and we kind of embrace that in Toronto. We are used to being the only Canadian team in various leagues.”
The “us against the world” mentality is certainly one that this city is familiar with as it unites Torontonians. It is not only a philosophy that can grow with the team and its fanbase, but it has also caught the attention of sponsors as well.
Teksavvy, a southern Ontario telecommunication company has recently agreed to partner with the Wolfpack. Besides being the Official Telecom Sponsor, the first home game will be known as the Teksavvy Home Opener.
“They identified as a similar brand to ourselves,” Fraser McNaught the Vice President of Marketing said, “kind of like the underdog, coming into this city, taking on the big players and we kind of just hit it off that way.”
Ownership and management are off to a great start in generating local interest but it will take time to win the battle for a fan’s entertainment dollar. That’s not the concern of the players however, their concern is with what happens on the field. They certainly are off to a great start with their perfect record and outscoring their opponents on average by over 54 points per game, but it doesn’t stop there.
“There’s a lot more potential in this team then the league we are in but all we can do is look after ourselves and be professionals from start to finish” Craig Hall, the Wolfpacks team captain said. “We are just going to take each team as it comes and hopefully at the end of the season we’re on top of the league and move on to the championship.”
The next team that awaits them is Oxford and they are the first opponent to play at Lamport Stadium, aka the Den. There is no need however to feel sorry for Oxford or any other Kingstone Press team. After all, wolves are predators and their opponents… well, they may just be byproducts of natural selection.
Photo Credits: Chris Papaioannou