It’s the last Million Pound Game as we know it – and it’s the expansionists dream as Toronto Wolfpack entertain London Broncos in the bright lights of Lamport Stadium in Canada.
The prize at stake is promotion to Super League and the potential to become the best in rugby league in the northern hemisphere.
But would Super League be better off with Toronto Wolfpack or London Broncos in 2019?
We take a look at both possible outcomes.
Toronto will enter the game as favourites – 3/10 with competition sponsors Betfred – and have already comfortably beaten the Broncos twice at home this season, though London did pull off a home win, one of only two defeats suffered by the Wolfpack in the Championship this season, back in March.
For them to earn promotion this week will speed up what seems to be an inevitable process of them getting to Super League and would then trigger an interesting couple of months of recruitment and logistics challenges, as we wait to see whether they will be allowed to play fixtures in blocks as they have been in the lower leagues.
Though their side was strong enough to win the Championship with relative ease, they are still a few players short of being able to compete with the middle Super League clubs, let alone those at the very top, and given the lack of players on the market, they may struggle to do that in season one. Picking up players from relegated Widnes will be an option, though that is unlikely to help them push for a play-off spot.
The question is Super League ready to seize the apparent opportunity that Toronto presents? The wrangling over the game’s re-structure is now over, though there still appears to be a number of issues to iron out – not least how the power pendulum swings between Super League chief Robert Elstone and his RFL counterpart Ralph Rimmer.
Issues around the reserve grade, funding, broadcasting and sponsorship also need sorting out.
You would imagine that rugby league will only get one chance to crack the competitive North American market, and given how long it’s taken football to establish itself there, that’s no mean feat.
Would it be better for Super League if it was able to get its own house in order before Toronto get involved, or does the Wolfpack coming up now provide a huge boost ahead of the TV contract renewal talks on the horizon?
London Broncos are nearing their 40th anniversary, having been founded in 1980 as Fulham. The fact they’re in the Million Pound Game is perhaps a surprise, having been written off in some quarters in pre-season, and to win in Toronto would be nothing short of miraculous.
Loyal and long-suffering owner David Hughes has sunk endless amounts in to the Broncos project, and he deserves a happy ending, as do the loyal band of fans who have followed the nomadic club through name changes, countless ground moves and of course, relegation.
While there are question marks over their current home at Trailfinders, a solution elsewhere would surely be sought if they were able to earn promotion.
Before London’s demise, we were always told that having a team in the capital was key to commercial and broadcast success, something that hasn’t really been proven or disproven in the four years since their relegation.
But they have a huge opportunity to become London’s biggest named sports brand, given all football teams carry alternative names and the biggest rugby union team, London Wasps, relocated to Coventry.
Could the Hearns be tempted to wave their magic wand over a London-based Super League club, and turn all of their home games in to huge events? Perhaps even taking them around London and play at 3/4 different grounds over the season to help build a fanbase and interest in rugby league.
The biggest strength for London right now is that they have proven they can produce quality players. The likes of Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Tony Clubb, Dan Sarginson and Mike McMeeken have all come from systems connected to the Broncos, and given the dip in participation numbers in rugby league, ensuring expansion clubs are actually producing players of quality is a must – something which is likely to be decades away for Toronto.
It will be a big occasion in Toronto, and here’s hoping for an exciting match befitting of it.