OPINION: Why Toronto could be the beginning of a Golden era for Rugby League

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The team that splits opinion all the way through the fan base, Toronto Wolfpack, secured their much anticipated promotion to the Super League. I am going to try and tell you why we should be embracing them, not vilifying them.

It is true, that this is an innovation like no other, a team playing in a league on the other side of the world, but they have, by and large, made it work.

It is difficult for some teams to get out there, but if we based the leagues on this, rugby league would not leave the heartlands and die.

For that matter, if that was the attitude of football fans, the Champions League or the Europa League would not exist. Ive not heard a single football fan moan about going to another country for a match, if anything its part of the adventure.

Even rugby union embraces this model with the European trophies on offer there, and like the Champions League, allows fans to see their sport in another country.

I know that this is slightly different, but if it is what it takes to spread the game of rugby league to new countries, attract new fans, and perhaps more crucially, can generate more money for the sport.

The only thing I am slightly critical of with Toronto at the moment, is the lack of North American players coming through.

I know they have only been in the league for three years, and a true grassroots movement cant happen overnight, but there are some big teams in North America, from the likes of Chicago and Jacksonville, and surely it cannot hurt to give one of these players a go.

Minus that, I believe Toronto are bringing a lot to the game at the moment. A 10,000 strong crowd packed out the Lamport Stadium to watch their side earn promotion on Saturday, and when they welcome bigger teams across the Atlantic, no disrespect to Featherstone,  there is no reason why that number cannot go up.

Not to mention, Toronto is an incredible sporting city. Their basketball team the Raptors recently became the first Canadian side to win the NBA title, while their football team, Toronto FC are also recent MLS winners.

Personally, one hope in the future for me, I don’t know how long this will take, but if we can grow the game in North America, to a point where we can grow a proper, full time league out there, then the Wolfpack, and any other North American teams can join that league, and we can then create a proper World Club Challenge.

I would even do this with the French clubs. I feel as though if different countries see this, across different regions, then it could boost the sport in those countries as well, and all of a sudden, we have a proper rugby league talent pool, rather than the dwindling one that exists at the moment.

But for now, I believe we should support the Wolfpack in what they are trying to achieve. They could stop the game from completely dwindling out.

If the sport just stays in the North of England, it is not going to appeal to anybody outside.

With that said, with Brian McDermott’s recent comments about rugby league in big cities, there are plenty of big cities in this country that have a rugby league presence outside the top tiers.

There are sides in Derby, Birmingham, Nottingham, Reading, Somerset and Devon among others in the regional leagues just waiting for their chance. Personally, as well as North America, I would like to see these sorts of teams being given a chance.

Expansion is good for the game, otherwise we end up with a stagnant sport, which will only be heading in one direction.

 

 

 

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