White Line Fever column: Toronto Wolfpack

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-9-54-35-amBy STEVE MASCORD

THE things that stuck out were the names. Young trialist Bomaly Costanby. Local NRL and Super League-savvy photographer Marvin Dangerfield.
We’re not at Leichhardt Oval or the DW, Toto.
When I first heard the Toronto Wolfpack were holding open trials (‘tryouts’ in the North American lexicon) across the continent, I was desperate to attend one.
But it was only the previous evening, standing under a tree at Eden Park, Wilmington Delaware, that I realised it was possible.
A Toronto Wolfpack delegation, including coach Paul Rowley and director Adam Fogerty, had been standing there waiting for the United States-Canada international to start. They were holding a tryout the next day at EE Garthwaite Stadium, Conshohocken – about 20 minutes’ drive from here – they told me.
Eden Park is not to be confused with it’s Auckland namesake. It’s a chopped up old paddock. The players got changed in the carpark, they had to break into a box to turn the lights on and the crowd numbered in the double figures.
And while the rugby league itself was quite engrossing, Wollongong-domiciled US Hawk Junior VaiVai racing away to secure a 20-14 win with two minutes left, the event was a bit of a damp squib (although the halftime food was delicious … and free).
So I held few high hopes as I took an Uber from Essington, Pennsylvania to the home of the Philadelphia Fight the next day – having been up all night blogging the NRL grand final for the Sydney Morning Herald.
But the immediate signs were good.
A Wolfpack banner at the quaint suburban ground, a documentary crew of four, the coaching staff in smart black-and-grey attire and numbered vests for the hopefuls.
amazon“I was named after Bob Marley – honestly,” says winger-in-waiting Costanby.
“I was just playing rugby union for four months. I’ve been working really hard from 4am every day and I thought I could test my skills out here, see what I can do.
“I just love everything rugby can offer a person. I’m kinda greedy. I just feel like rugby can give me a good life, you get a little pay cheque and you can have fun.
“It’s good to go out and battle with my mates.”
By the side of the pitch, an Atlanta Rhinos player is talking State of Origin and hit-ups. On the field, Rowley is presiding over three-on-two drills, schooling the triallists on unders plays and inside shoulder responsibility.
I admit, I learned a thing or two listening to him.
Rowley won’t move to Canada at all. The pre-season camp will be in Europe and they won’t play a home game until May.
Leaning over the fence with a pipe is Fogerty, the former Halifax, St Helens and
Warrington prop who was also a heavyweight boxer and movie star (once knocked out on screen by Brad Pitt).
Along with being a director of the new club, he is involved in Last Tackle – the production company turning these tryouts into a documentary. One fellow from Samoa is told to answer the question again and leave his country of origin out of the answer, mentioning only Ohio.
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donate2“It’s a story of redemption – giving these athletes in North America a chance at a sport they may not know much about,” says the Huddersfield resident.
“Only have a percent make the NFL, who leave college. We’ve got thousands and thousands of college athletes.
“It’s not X Factor. We’re not in it to show people up and make fools of people. We’re going to pick 15 of what we think of the best and bring them to England.
“They’ll be whittled down from there. It’s not a voting system where people ring in. They’ve got to have something special that we think we can mould into being rugby league stars.
“We want it to go out in everyone’s front room around the world.”
The Wolfpack are still regarded by many in Britain as a bizarre joke that will be lucky to last a season.
“People have got to take it to heart in Canada,” Fogerty admits. “We need to fill the stadiums for the home games and have them get behind us.
“You’re only as good as your supporters, in a way. They money men won’t keep throwing money into it forever and ever if it’s not financially viable.
“But we’re here because we believe in it.”
An hour in Conshohocken, and I believe again, too.

Filed for: FORTY 20 MAGAZINE

FAR & WIDE: Wales, Germany, Serbia, Canada, Jamaica, Ireland

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Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD
WALES have announced a ground-breaking tour of Germany in October.
They’ll play a warm-up in England at the end of September before taking on a British Army combination in their first match on German soil.
The international against the Germans will be played on October 22 with the venue yet to be announced.
The Dragons side will be chosen purely from residents. Tyson Frizell need not pack his bags.
The Germans are coming off a narrow win in the Griffin Cup; they beat the Netherlands just 8-6 in Rotterdam.
The final hour was scoreless with spectators describing the clash as intense.
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THERE’S an interesting annual match in Serbia – the national side takes on the national under 23s.
If all players under 23 played for the juniors, how do you think such a match would go in Australia.
In Serbia, it was the old fellas who ran out victorious recently, 68-22.
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IN Ireland they have an Origin match with real feeling – the Republic of Ireland v Northern Ireland.
The series has kicked of this year and Northern Ireland won 34-30 in a cracker of a match. Looks like the domination of the fellas from the north isn’t just restricted to the southern hemisphere.
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WE’RE supposed to be unbiased here at Far & Wide but we have to admit we have a favourite club – the Toronto Wolfpack who enter the British third tier next year.
And recruitment is going well for North America’s first club team to play in a European club competition and the first pro side of any sport to be involved in promotion and relegation.
Hull FC youngster Reece Dean has signed on, as has Bradford’s Welsh international Dan Fleming..
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DON’T forget Far & Wide 360 is back on Fox Sports’ NRL 360 on the first Wednesday of each month.
@RLWfarandwide

Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

Far & Wide: Welcome, Wolfpack

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

IT’s the first Trans-Atlantic sports club in history – welcome to rugby league, the Toronto Wolfpack.

Toronto mayor John Tory was on hand for the gala launch last week of a truly historic venture – a place in England’s National League One next year.

As an expansion franchise, this makes the New Zealand Warriors look like Newtown in comparison.

To put it into perspective, its believed no North American professional sports team has ever played in a promotion and relegations league before, because franchising is the dominant system in the US and Canada.

The Wolfpack, to be coached by ex-Leigh boss Paul Rowley, will play roughly a month of home games at a time and then go on tour for a month in England – just as we have been saying an English team in the NRL would operate.

Players will be drawn initially from England but Rowley will scout all of North America.

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National League One is still two divisions below Super League so it’s a long haul to the top flight.

But that conference now covers the length and breadth of England, with teams from France, Wales and now Canada.

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SEMI Radradra aside, confusion of eligibility continues to rule during the lead-up to the NRL representative weekend.

The Queensland Rugby League tried to tell people Anthony Milford was tied to Australia even though he’d not yet played for them at senior level!

Meanwhile, David Mead was – correctly – chosen by Papua New Guinea despite playing NSW Country less than 12 months before.

Queensland and NSW are provinces and in the eyes of the RLIF have no more impact on a player’s national eligibility than Group 16 would tie a player to Australia.

You are not tied to a country until you represent it at senior level during a World Cup cycle.

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THE announcement of the Four Nations dates and venues happened between the last column being written and the mag coming out.

October 28: Australia v Scotland at Craven Park; October 29: England v New Zealand at John Smith’s Stadium; November 5: England v Scotland and New Zealand v Australia at Ricoh Arena, Coventry; November 11: New Zealand v Scotland at Derwent Park, Workington; November 13: England v Australia at Olympic Stadium, London; November 20: FINAL at Anfield, Liverpool.

Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK