Ahead of the commencement of their fixtures in The Qualifiers, Toronto Wolfpack are one of the most-fancied teams to earn immediate promotion into Super League by finishing in the stage’s top three in just their second year of existence. As one of the Wolfpack’s most passionate fans, Nicholas Mew seemed an obvious person to discuss the rest of the season with in order to gain a native’s perspective on Toronto’s hopes for the next seven matches…
1) You are about to embark on your maiden Qualifiers campaign and, with it, a real shot at Super League. What is the mood in the city right now about the team’s prospects?
The mood amongst Toronto supporters is that we can get to Super League. The most optimistic believe that we can finish in the top three, and avoid the ‘Million Pound Game’, while others feel that we’ll be in that game and are just hoping that we have home-field advantage. Five wins should put Toronto in the top three, but that would require knocking off at least a couple of existing Super League teams, which is no easy task.
In the city itself, overall, the Wolfpack remain largely unknown and the majority of the public are blissfully unaware of the Qualifiers taking place at all, or of the sport of rugby league.
2) Which teams are you most looking forward to facing?
Hull KR, Widnes, and Toulouse. Hull KR and Widnes because they are Super League teams visiting Toronto, and Toulouse because the match we were supposed to play against them in Toronto earlier this season was taken away from us and played at Magic Weekend. As a season-ticket holder, I was less than impressed at losing that game because I had been promoting the living daylights out of it, and had plenty of people committed to come …. and then all of a sudden it was gone. Some of those people have still not come to a Toronto match this season, because I haven’t managed to win them back, so I’m hoping this will convince them. You might expect me to say Leeds, but I’m not really looking forward to that one at all, because it will signify the end of the season, and I’m hoping that Toronto’s status for 2019 will already be known by the time of that game.
3) Did you expect the Wolfpack to have topped the table so comfortably back in February when the season started?
No, definitely not. I expected Leigh would be on the very top, along with Toulouse and London in The Qualifiers, and had hoped we would finish in the top four. I also knew that Halifax and Featherstone would be significant challenges, and wasn’t counting them out either.
4) Do you think the sequencing will impact on the team’s chances?
Unfortunately, yes I do. Playing Halifax on Sunday, then flying to Toronto to play Hull KR six days later is going to be a difficult task. Hull KR will have had eight days off between matches. Then I wonder what’s going to happen between the Hull KR and London matches – will the boys go back to England to be with their families? Will they be staying here? I just don’t know. There are pluses and minuses to both. In addition to Hull KR, the games against Salford, Toulouse, and Leeds will be played shortly after a trans-Atlantic flight. What consequence that will have, if any, I don’t know, but it’s a concern. The Leeds fixture will also be six days after their previous match, giving yet another reason to worry.
5) Regarding the league structure, what is the view of the Wolfpack fans on the rugby league structure?
You obviously don’t have much promotion and relegation in baseball and basketball – I don’t think! We don’t have promotion or relegation in our sports leagues here at all. It causes too much financial uncertainty, and people want to see the ‘big leagues’. How can you make long-term plans for the benefit of the team, and the league, if you don’t have the guaranteed revenue stream of being in the top league? Teams at lower levels are usually what we call “farm teams”, where the development players and those rehabbing from an injury are sent to play by their top league affiliate team. The Toronto Blue Jays, for example, have seven minor league farm teams at different levels in Vancouver, the Dominican Republic, and the US States of Florida, New York, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Virginia. The Toronto Maple Leafs have two farm teams, one in Toronto, and one in Newfoundland. If you had promotion and relegation, you wouldn’t have this system where a wealthy big league team supports teams in other cities. I’m not saying it’s the best way, or the right way, but it works over here. As for the current rugby league structure, we’ll go with whatever the league decides. The problem right now is that we don’t know what that’s going to be in the future.