Monday, 8 October 2018

London Calling

London Broncos claimed the final place in next season's Super League last night, beating Toronto Wolfpack 4-2 in the Million Pound Game (maybe it should have been called the Two Million Dollar Game given it was played in Canada). Their win followed equally narrow results for Warrington and Wigan in the Super League semi-finals this weekend, also dominated by defences and the kicking of penalties and drop goals rather than try-scoring, and was the final edition of a single playoff match introduced in 2015 to determine which team takes the last berth in the next season's competition, having just been dropped in favour of a traditional one up, one down system of promotion and relegation.

I found myself rooting for Toronto during the game, mainly I think because having a Canadian team in Super League would be a significant step foward for the expansion of rugby league in North America. London itself has of course long been a target for the game's expansion, with the first professional clubs formed there in thirties, partly to attract workers who had moved south to escape the industrial depression in the North, and partly as a second-string attraction and source of revenue for the owners of greyhound racing tracks, and later football grounds. The recurring problems with rugby league clubs in London are low attendances at matches, only partially masked by large contigents of away fans from the North, and a lack of the amateur clubs which provide the more successful Super League sides with a succession of talented junior players.

Admittedly there would have been travel issues with a Canadian team in the Super League, although those have already been managed pretty successfully for more than a decade with the Catalans Dragons from Perpignan in southwest France, and west London on a Friday night or Sunday afternoon isn't exactly an easy trip from Hull or St Helens given Britain's low-speed and fractured transport system. I'm sure that just as away fans make a weekend of it in Catalonia, either driving up to the ground from Barcelona or exploring the area between the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees, so people would enjoy spending a few days in the Toronto spring and summer sunshine before and after a match there. Having only formed two years ago, and set themselves a target of reaching the Super League within five, I'm also sure that Toronto, who topped the second-tier Championship and would have been promoted automatically under next season's rules, will soon achieve their ambition of playing top-flight rugby league.

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