07/09/2017 08:30 EDT | Updated 07/12/2017 07:47 EDT

Wolfpack foes enjoy trip to Toronto but rugby league journey comes at a cost

TORONTO — In the wake of the Toronto Wolfpack's latest lopsided win, a Gloucestershire All Golds player limped by on crutches as visiting coach Lee Greenwood was being interviewed.

Saturday's 62-10 loss at Lamport Stadium took its toll on the semi-pro All Golds (6-8-0).

"It was what it was, wasn't it," said an unsmiling Greenwood. "A part-time team of a lot of young and inexperienced lads against a lot of (players with) Championship, Super League experience who are full-time as well — don't forget that element.

"It's as expected, to me."

Greenwood, a former England international, wasn't complaining. But he understandably did not enjoy seeing five of his charges go down during the contest. With only four extra players allowed to dress, that meant his team was down a man as the clock wound down.

How wide is the gulf between the two teams?

Toronto (14-0-0) was able to start former New Zealand and Tongan international Fuifui Moimoi, a tank of a man who made more than 200 appearances in Australia's National Rugby League, on the bench. One of Gloucestershire's players was unable to make the trip because he runs a market stall and could not leave it unattended.

"Some of them aren't even blokes yet, they're still kids," Greenwood said proudly of his players, who gave up 11 tries but prevented at least six others by holding Toronto players up after they crashed the goal-line.

Forced to begin life in the third tier of English rugby league, the Wolfpack have made short work of their outgunned opposition. Toronto has averaged 60 points a game on offence while yielding just 10 per contest.

Toulouse Olympique XIII was equally unchallenged after entering at the same stage of the competition last season, winning promotion after going 20-0-1. The French team currently stands fifth in the second-tier Championship with a 13-8-0 record.

While Toronto wanted to enter the competition at a higher level, CEO Eric Perez says entering via the third tier has allowed the team to build on and off the field. It has also helped answer any naysayers.

"We can say we earned it from the bottom up," he said. "We didn't get any handouts and we did it the right way ... We'll earn our way up to Super League the way everybody else does."

The Wolfpack are already working on boosting their squad for the demands of the Championship.

Toronto's opposition has welcomed the chance to play the Wolfpack, knowing the newcomers are boosting attendance and shining light on what is a niche sport by world standards.

They also appreciated the free trip to Canada, with the Wolfpack agreeing to cover travel and housing costs for their visitors until they reach the Super League. The accommodations are hardly the Ritz — the visitors stay at York University — but the opportunity to spend a few days in North America on someone else's dime is a good deal.

It comes at a cost on the field. While Kingstone Press League 1 teams get up for the challenge, they soon become undone against the size, skills and training of the Wolfpack.

Privately Rowley acknowledges that some of his training sessions are more gruelling than the games themselves.

Rowley is a coach who clearly cares about his players, fostering a family-like atmosphere on a team forced to live on both sides of the Atlantic. His players bought into the Wolfpack dream, taking pay cuts to do so although their cheques will go up as the club does. 

But there is also a ruthless side to the former England hooker, who accused Gloucestershire of feigning injury to slow the game down Saturday.

"As a sportsman, if my coach told me to do that, I'd leave the club. I'm absolutely not feigning injury for nobody. I want to win ... You've got to back yourself in sport. Or I think you've got to look at yourself in the mirror and maybe hang your boots up and go and do something else.

"Snooker's quite a good sport. You don't get tackled, you don't hit anybody," he said acidly.

Greenwood was dumbfounded at the accusation.

"When you clearly can see five guys had to actually come off the field injured, I'm not sure where they were coming from there," he said.

Asked if the Wolfpack should have entered at a higher level of competition, Greenwood refused to bite.

"I've no opinion on it, to be honest. I'm not really fussed," he said after a pause. "If they hadn't come in this division, then we wouldn't be here now."

Rowley, sitting at the post-game news conference alongside players Rhys Jacks and Victoria teenager Quinn Ngawati, said the teams that play the Wolfpack had their chance.

"Everybody had a chance to sign Rhys, to sign me, to sign Quinn. And they didn't," he said.

"We've put together a jigsaw, with all different sorts of pieces," he added. "This team isn't about the money, absolutely not. We had players that played in other teams turn us down because we didn't offer them enough money."

Those who did accept the offer are enjoying the ride.

"They're good boys. They're here for the love, the dream," said Rowley. "They've got the best job in the world."

But Rowley's claim that, unlike others, his players made the choice to dedicate themselves to rugby league is somewhat disingenuous.

Ngawati, who turned 18 in June, made history with his debut off the bench Saturday. The Canada Rugby League Association, the governing body of the sport here, says he is the first Canadian-born player to feature in a pro rugby league match.

Jacks and Wolfpack teammate Tom Dempsey, both Australian-born and bred, are Canadian internationals through bloodlines.


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