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By Dave Woods
BBC soccer league correspondent
Out of a place in Super League, Toronto Wolfpack are only 80 minutes from pipe-dream into reality’s border.
Following three decades of playing with their way the Wolfpack find themselves.
On the back part of their bidding for a place in the elite of football league, there was that a sport created in England’s cities is starting to find it’s location in among the hottest cities of North America.
“I believe there is a huge chance out here,” explained Jon Wilkin, a multiple Challenge Cup and Grand Final winner with St Helens, who this year has been helping spearhead the Wolfpack’s on-field bid for marketing.
“I guess the idea is wild and whacky, but it’s a very professional set-up we have out here. It’s just not a conventional heartland,” Wilkin told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Rugby League Podcast this week ahead of Saturday’s game.
“We’d 9,500 people at our game last week (against Toulouse), and for me personally that is astonishing.
“The Toronto Argonauts, in the Canadian CFL – the equal of the NFL – they had 12,000 people go to their match and they play at a enormous 40,000 stadium and it is on TV over here.
“Therefore for the Wolfpack to receive 9,500, that is enormous. An attendance like that isn’t something to be sniffed at.”
Promotion is on the side far from a formality.
Toronto, led by Grand Final-winning former Leeds coach Brian McDermott, were leaders of the Championship, finishing 12 points clear of 29, this year.
However, who moves up to Super League is decided by means of a string of play-off matches, culminating in a one time decider.
The Wolfpack were at the same position last year, only to be taken down by London Broncos.
This year it is Featherstone who reside in their own way and the contrast between the two clubs could not be sharper.
Featherstone – who’s fans rejoice under the self-styled nickname’that the flat-cappers’ – is a village which rests in the center of the league heartland.
A stone’s throw away from Wakefield Trinity and Super League clubs Castleford, together with Leeds not far beyond, they are cast in the shadow of the neighbours.
However, some moments are shown up by their history. Their most recent afternoon in the sun was a Challenge Cup final Wembley win in 1983 and they’ve an appetite to compete with the elite .
This season despite finishing fifth in the regular season, they’ve defied the odds from home – by Toulouse, York and beating Leigh – to claim a spot within this so-called’Million Pound Game’.
And Wilkin isn’t surprised that they are the competitions with this competition of Toronto.
“No, not at all,” he said. “Everybody in the outside looking in would state Toulouse and York are up there, another best two teams in the contest.
“However, the toughest two games we have played have been against Featherstone. They have been the very games that we’ve played in, there is not many breaks in the match and where it’s very much a tussle, and they seem to enjoy that as far as any team we have played at this level.
“We’re excited to be there and to be playing .”
Earlier this week that the Wolfpack reported that 8,000 tickets had already been sold for Saturday.
That is marketed, they saynot given away.
And they hope to turn fans off on the day if the”house full” signs go up.
But lose or win, the Wolfpack will go on, and Wilkin says his season with Toronto has revealed signs that the league seeds in town are starting to take hold.
“I think that it’s rising,” he said. “The area of the town where the scene is – a place called Liberty Village – is a sort of a hipster region, Google have their own offices . There’s residential places around there too, although it’s a cool, bohemian work area.
“I’d say pretty much everyone in that region knows about the Wolfpack. You are stopped by people at the street and chat to you. They know more about the game, they state things such as’good fortune in the last’.
“However, the challenge is Caribbean, the main part of the town. Clearly the Maple Leafs along with the Blue Jays are huge brands and I do not think there is as much vulnerability there, but that’s growing.
“I jumped onto a street car another day, the tram, and the tram driver’high fived’ me. It was a Wolfpack. As a tiny bench markers, I thought that was interesting.”
The odds are stacked in the Wolfpack’s favour with this last match of the season. Featherstone, a mainly group, had just a turnaround from flying back out of their success in Toulouse before stripping off to Canada.
The Wolfpack have had off and no need to travel in their Toronto base.
And that he is said by Wilkin and his team-mates are concentrated.
“You can build up things a lot. It is a Grand Final and also the implications people winning, we’d enter Super League,” he explained.
“But the results of the match’s result don’t effect the processes on the field, or else they should not do. You may get too overawed by its emotion, by the scale of this endeavor, but like anything else in life, if you break it down to little chunks that were bite-size it is very possible.
“Big matches and pressurised environments alter people’s behaviour. The challenge for us is that we don’t have to change anything to win the game.
“We are extremely respectful of Featherstone, they’ve a terrific young coach as well, but when we perform at our best I believe we win the match and that’s what we have to do.”
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