Toronto v Featherstone Grand Final: Who will reign supreme?

It’s biggest game in both teams’ recent history as the new kids on the block go up against a team drenched in over 117 years of history. 

Toronto will not want deja vu of last year’s million-pound game where they came in as the favourites for promotion but lost out at the hands of the London Broncos. 

Meanwhile Featherstone are chomping at the bit to have an opportunity in the top flight after missing out when the initial split to Super League was made in 1996. 

Their mouths will also be watering over the possible idea of local derbies against Castleford and Wakefield.

Toronto will be well rested having overpowered Toulouse Olympique at Lamport Stadium two weeks ago. 

However, the Rovers will be travelling to Canada with their tails high and momentum on their side as they have won three consecutive play-off games, taking down opponents such as Leigh, York and Toulouse to earn their place in the Championship Grand Final from fifth place in the league. 

You have to question if Ashton Sims’ retirement party will be dampened just like Micky Higham’s was a few weeks prior. There is also the fact that the flatcappers were the first team to turn over the Wolfpack on home soil, which cannot be ignored.

The only question as to whether Featherstone can perform to the standard they have been throughout their play-off run is how the quick turnaround will impact them. They returned from the south of France on Monday and on Thursday morning they flew to Toronto. They will have had to find time in between to prepare for the game and also work, with the Rovers being a part-time club.

Both teams have been given the green light by the RFL and met all the relevant criteria, which means whoever wins on Saturday will confirm their place in the Betfred Super League for 2020 – with the promotion being sanctioned by the sports’ governing body

TEAM NEWS

The Wolfpack will more than likely stick with the squad they have used all season and make limited changes to the side that beat Toulouse in the semi-final. 

On the flip side, Featherstone will be without key figures such as Brad Day and Josh Walters, with Cameron King at risk of missing out. Day and Walters both picked up knee injuries in the play-off win at York City Knights and won’t be included in the 19-man squad. King has been named but is still at doubt having failed a head test before Rovers’ victory over Toulouse. They have been bolstered by the early return of Jack Bussey, who is set to face his former club once again. 

PROBABLE LINE-UPS:

ROVERS: Golding, Render, Sutcliffe, Carey, Johnson, McLelland, Chisholm, Makatoa, Jones, Davies, Hardcastle, Harrison, Lockwood. SUBS: Bussey, Cooper, Ormondroyd, Albert.

WOLFPACK: O’Brien, Russell, Stanley, Leutele, Kay, Mellor, McCrone, Sims, Ackers, Dixon, Thompson, Wilkin, Lussick. SUBS: Olbison, Wallace, Springer, Mullally.

HEAD-TO-HEAD BATTLES

Ashton Golding v Gareth O’Brien – Fullback

Ashton Golding is set to face his former boss Brian McDermott and will hope to impress as he goes up against the Betfred Championship player of the year, Gareth O’Brien. 

Not only will the former Stanningley junior be going up against his former coach, he will go up against Anthony Mullally – one of his former team-mates. 

Scoring six tries in 20 appearances, one of those against Toulouse in the semi-final, Golding has no trouble finding the tryline. 

On the other hand there is Gareth O’Brien, who is highly experienced having played almost 200 career games and had spells at seven different clubs, allowing the fullback to hone his craft. The acquisition of O’Brien proved lucrative as in his first full season with Toronto, he captured the Betfred Championship Player of the Year Award. 

The former Salford stalwart also saved the Red Devils from relegation back in 2016 with a drop-goal in golden-point extra time against Hull Kingston Rovers, so he is definitely a player who knows how to play when the pressure is on.

Connor Jones v Andy Ackers – Hooker

Salford coach Ian Watson will be keeping a close eye on the Championship Grand Final as new signing Connor Jones will look likely to start at hooker against the Wolfpack, with number nine Cameron King still in doubt. 

Jones swapped the sun, sand and sea of Australia for the mining town of Featherstone after signing from Intrust Super Cup side Northern Pride. Beforehand he was in the Canterbury Bulldogs set-up with the Under-20s and also spent time at East Tigers. 

He has been a mainstay in the Rovers side since his arrival and will go up against former London Bronco Andy Ackers. The Wigan Warriors junior made a name for himself in League One with Swinton Lions before moving on to London Broncos and then Toronto Wolfpack, where he has spent two seasons. 

Ackers is a massive threat to the Rovers. Prowess and game alertness are just a couple of the qualities the hooker obtains – and he will be a spearhead within the Toronto attack.

PREDICTION: WOLFPACK BY 10

This final has the potential to be one of the most exciting games of the year – even more so than the Challenge Cup Final. There is a place in Super League on the line and both sides are wanting to earn the place London lost. 

Brian McDermott is a big-game coach so will rally his pack to be more than ready. A win in Canada could be one too far for Ryan Carr’s Rovers, who will put their head in the lion’s mouth with their opposition only losing one game all season.

But the Rovers have proven they are no pushovers in their exceptional play-off campaign and have already beaten the Canadian side on home turf once before. 

It will be a tight affair but you would have to think that the quality of players such as O’Brien, Ricky Letuele and Josh McCrone will outshine their opposite numbers and perform on the big stage. 

This really is a tricky one to call. It could be anyone’s game. But I will have to go for Toronto.

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