Expansion into Canada could be game changer for rugby league, says Matt Lewis

Hollywood actor and Leeds superfan Matt Lewis believes Toronto Wolfpack could propel rugby league to the next level.

The Harry Potter star is a huge Rhinos fan – and is a regular at Headingley when he is over in the UK.

Now living in Florida, Lewis watches most Super League games online and believes there is a gap in the North American market for the sport.

He told Sky Sports’ Golden Point Podcast: “I do think this expansion into Canada could be a game changer because we play at a different time of year to American football so there isn’t a clash there and I think that if we can get people to engage for a very small amount of time then they will buy into it.

“I put the Leeds-Toronto game on a couple of months ago in a bar and all the Americans that were lined up on the bar having a few beers turned from whatever they were watching and they watched the game with me.

“They had no clue what was going on but they said ‘this is great, I’m into this’ and they liked the impact and the fact there are no helmets or pads.

“If you could get people to watch it, you don’t have to get them to watch it for long and they’ll buy into it.”


Lewis, who played Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter films, believes the sport should try to promote the characters in rugby league to help grow the game.

He added: “Instead of trying to sell rugby league, maybe we need to start selling personalities and I think there are some legs there.

“I don’t know much about American football to be honest but I know Tom Brady, Odell Beckham Jr, Eli Manning – but I don’t know who they play for or what they’ve done but I know their names, so I wonder if there is something there about selling personalities.

“I like the down to earth nature of rugby league players that they are no-nonsense. I always thought that Brian McDermott was great for that after games. He didn’t pull punches and I know he got in trouble for some of it but people like to see that, it’s exciting when players and coaches tell the truth.”

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About Drew Darbyshire 8176 Articles
Love Rugby League Deputy Editor. Joined the site ahead of the 2017 World Cup and been a full-time reporter since 2018.

1 Comment

  1. I was going to write this off as the same old drum beat but then he said this: “Instead of trying to sell rugby league, maybe we need to start selling personalities and I think there are some legs there.”

    Agree completely. Matter of fact it’s better to have stars in the news for all the wrong reasons, like with the NRL, than not be in the news at all. You need to be in the popular consciousness of people.

    I also think this is where Toronto has fell short as well, with the exception of the recent SBW signing. They need local players to get attention. I think the comparisons with the Toronto Raptors is problematic. Basketball was already established in Canada before the NBA came to town and people had been watching it on TV for years. Frankly, the Raptors became popular the moment the team started. The Wolfpack doesn’t have that so I don’t buy that excuse for why they want 20-25 years to develop local talent to justify why they still don’t have local players.

    Rugby League started in Jamaica in 2004 and in 15 years they’re in the World Cup. So if Canada is going to take longer then that to even develop talent, are we going to see them in the World Cup in 40 years? The math doesn’t add up.

    American basketball players have a similar accent and cultural upbringing to Canadians, most people don’t think of them as foreigners. But when you have a team full of English and Australian accents, it does create a mental and cultural barrier. That’s why Wolfpack need local players to connect to people. When TWP won the Championship they barely got any mainstream coverage at all. Article on websites don’t reach the average citizen. Had they had a Canadian player or two, they would have been on talk shows and sport shows talking about their accomplishment which actually would have introduced the sport to a lot of common people.

    There is no shortage of local players. The MLR has 52 Canadians between one Canadian team and the US teams. As Vancouver and Montreal enter the fold, they’ll have even more players. That’s when Wolfpack is going to be in a serious pinch. I was really excited for the Ottawa Aces but after listening to Eric Perez’s recent interviews, it seems he’s just going to emulate what the Wolfpack did the first time around. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both of these clubs ended up folding a few years down the line because of lack of traction (revenue) and then the fans will just blame the SL and RFL and how they didn’t pay them a cut of the TV revenue. Well no sh-t they’re not going to get UK TV revenue that’s from UK audiences and advertisers (and which the UK clubs negotiated with Sky for their deal). When TWP and Aces bring a Canadian TV deal to the table, they can talk about revenue splits. Otherwise, it’s just the UK league/audience subsidizing the non-UK side, which makes no financial sense whatsoever for the UK side. Besides, it’s the Wolfpack that agreed to exclusive North American TV rights for themselves, so why is McDermott constantly complaining about not getting UK TV money? That’s his failure to not generate equivalent revenue in North America. It’s just excuse after another from him.

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