So rugby league just took a giant step into the unknown, becoming the first British sport to introduce a tran-Atlantic component to a ‘domestic’, club competition. The Toronto Wolfpack are a reality, and will compete in League 1 in 2017.
They are well-resourced, and have an experienced coaching duo in Brian Noble and Paul Rowley at the helm when it comes to the rugby side of the operation.
The Wolfpack hierarchy would also appear to have money to burn, which always helps in the cash-strapped environment of our game.
But can it really work? History would tend to indicate not, and the owner of Love Rugby League, James Gordon, has written a cogent and passionate piece here about the adversity the club will face, as well as logistic and transport issues.
But here, I am going to argue in favour of this ambitious and innovative project. For the record, I do have some misgivings about it, but it seems so ambitious, almost absurd, that I’m going to run with it for now.
Toronto is a major city, not just in Canada, but in North America. It is within driving range of the big US eastern seaboard cities, as well offering a gateway into Canada.
This offers rugby league a entry into a city with a population of just over 2.6 million, in a nation with a population of just over 36 million people.
There is also the opportunity to develop North American and Caribbean talent at the club. While the focus should, rightly, be on Canadian players, young Americans and Jamaicans can now see a pathway to the professional game too, within their own geographical hemisphere.
That can only be a good thing for the game generally.
There is also a significant French-speaking population, opening up the possibility of links with French as well as British rugby league.
Others have pointed out that surely a professional club in Scotland or Ireland would be a better step right now.
Well, they’re right. But the problem is that no one in Scotland or Ireland has stepped forward with a plan and the necessary passion to do so.
There is also no one, yet, who is prepared to bankroll a club in Scotland or Ireland to the extent that the backers of this Canadian adventure are doing. A bond of almost half a million pounds has already been put up by the club’s backers, according to some sources.
That money helps a lot, and will continue to keep the show on the road when enthusiasm and excitement begin to wane.
There is also a PR element, as this has undoubtedly put rugby league in the news in the UK as well as Canada.
It may even help crowds in League 1, something which does definitely need boosting.
Friends in Toronto have reported back that the story made mainstream TV news in the city this week, something which is unlikely ever to have happened before to our sport.
So perhaps we can ignore all the negative precedents in rugby league, all the failures in Paris, South Wales, Gateshead etc etc, and allow ourselves to dream a little bit.
Maybe this is the first step to, in two decades’ time or so, an International Rugby League, with a two-division Atlantic Conference and a two-division Pacific Conference.
The Atlantic Conference could feature teams from North America’s east coast, South Africa, Ireland, France, Wales and Scotland.
The Pacific could see teams from Fiji, PNG, Samoa, New Zealand, Western Australia and North America’s Pacific coast.
This is a model that takes the trans-national club competition idea of southern hemisphere rugby union’s Super Rugby concept, and pumps it full of steroids.
Far fetched? Pie in the sky? Yes, but so was a League 1 team in Toronto a couple of years ago…