Kingstone Press League 1 Rugby

We the Wolfpack

on May 2017 | in Sports | by Dario Passarelli | @PapaDart | with No Comments

The Toronto Wolfpack soundly defeated Oxford RLFC 62-12 this past Saturday in the first ever professional Rugby League game on this side of the Atlantic. The score however, will most likely just be a footnote when people look back at this historical moment both for the RL and for the city of Toronto. The true measuring stick will be how well rugby and the Wolfpack were received locally and does the sport have the opportunity to grow in North America.

That might take years to determine but if the first game in front of home fans can provide any indication, then the future certainly looks bright. Part of the Wolfpack charm, as mentioned in a previous article, was its underdog status in battling the giants of sport in this city for a fan’s entertainment dollar. The Maple Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays and now TFC dominate this landscape and have put the pack in an “us vs everyone” mentality.

What was reaffirmed on Saturday however, is that the Wolfpack can and will be successful because the “us” represents the players and the average sports fan. Even though none of the athletes are Canadian, they Wolfpack players are honoured to be playing for Toronto and make sure the crowd knew they appreciated it.

“Since day 1 we have been the people’s team,[with] people’s prices.” CEO Eric Perez said after the game. “You can relate to these guys, they are just like everyone else. That is something that is lost in sports in North America these days and I think we are bringing it back in a big way.”

Toronto Wolfpack Home Opener

In return, the fans also demonstrated how they appreciated the players. They came despite the overly dramatic weather report stating that animals were beginning to line up two-by-two. The 6,218 faithful stayed in the Den despite the 42 year old stadium not having any coverage against the elements. There was no VIP section to be “seen” in. There are no corporate boxes to conduct business in. A person doesn’t even have to break a Canada Savings Bond to purchase a ticket to the game as they are only $26 at the gate and $21 in advance. Finally, the North End Beer Garden which (unsurprisingly) was busy the entire day, was only filled with local Ontario breweries rather than your typical conglomerates.

Add it all together and you have passionate fans in the stands ready to let loose and cheer while the lads on the field gave them plenty of opportunity to do so. From the very first try on Canadian soil by Blake Wallace just over 2 minutes into the game, to the fisticuffs that erupted near the 69th minute, people cheered and howled in support of their new found team.

Toronto, meet the Wolfpack. Wolfpack, meet Toronto. The start of a beautiful friendship.

Toronto Wolfpack Pre Game

“You can see how it’s going to be build into something magnificent, coach Paul Rowley said in the post game conference. “The fans loved it, it had a bit of everything as promised. We delivered, they delivered.”

Some might argue that one game a successful franchise does not make and they would be correct. The sport will grow as fans start to recognize how special rugby players are and what they are made of.

“[Few sports]… take the bravery and somewhat psychotic behaviour of these people to play and run at each other like mini-car crashes time and time again,” coach Paul Rowley explained earlier this week. “The players are aggressive with a nasty nature, but they are gentlemen as well.”

The aggressive nature was clearly on display by both teams. One would like to give Oxford credit for continuing to fight (sometimes literally) every single minute of the game despite the score. The truth is however, that this is what rugby players do; they play hard the entire game with regardless of what the score is. That kind of effort alone will endear themselves to Canadians, but this team offers so much more.

Oxford Rugby team

The talent on the grounds is quite varied whether it is because you enjoy the skill of captain Craig Hall and his converts (he had 7 on Saturday); or whether you enjoy the tantalizing runs of Ryan Brierley who had two tries; or the brute strength (it usually takes 3-5 men to take him down as the picture above shows) of Dan Fleming, who the fans behind me lovingly called Baby Face. As entertaining as they were on the field, it is off the field that makes this team special as evident by their interactions with the fans post game and their celebration in the locker room after.

Toronto Wolfpack Post Game

They took quite some time walking around the grounds high fiving fans, hugging them and helping to take selfies. Those joyous interactions were quite genuine as the smiles on the players faces were as big as those of the fans. This helped provide additional adrenaline because once they finally made it back to the locker room, they chanted their victory song loud enough for those back home in England to hear. How can you not cheer for these guys?


“The Wolfpack’s on Fire. Your defence is terrified”
“The Wolfpack’s on Fire. Your defence is terrified”


Photo credits: Chris Papaioannou

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