Toronto Wolfpack and Hull KR: Promotion successes give cause for celebration

Toronto captain Craig Hall lifts the League One title

There’s nothing sweeter than a promotion party for those involved.

But it’s the stories behind the successes of Toronto and Hull KR that make them both a cause for celebration by rugby league as a whole.

The Wolfpack secured promotion from League One with their 26-2 win over nearest rivals Barrow in downtown Toronto last Saturday night.

Hull Kingston Rovers guaranteed a place back in Super League with their tense victory over Widnes earlier in the day.

The authors of the Toronto tale will tell you that winning their league at the first attempt, and looking forward to next year in the Championship, is only a case of so far, so good.

Their goal from day one was to reach Super League and compete against the game’s leading British clubs. That remains a focus and it is still at least a year away.

But this really is a case of so far, so VERY good.

Exploding into reality

Fuifui Moi Moi
Toronto will now look to sign further ‘X-factor’ stars such as former New Zealand prop Fuifui Moi Moi, whose profile has helped generate interest in the Wolfpack in the southern hemisphere as well

The Wolfpack vision was drip fed into rugby league over a couple of years, until it exploded into reality at the start of this season.

The promises were bold. They would fund teams travelling to Toronto, they would build a squad capable of winning promotions, they would create a supporter base from scratch – they would cause a stir. They have delivered.

Visiting teams’ trips to Canada have been funded. The team they assembled lost only once in the league campaign, and a very solid 7,000+ fan base has been turning up for each of their home matches at Lamport Stadium.

Most well-established Championship sides and one or two Super League clubs wouldn’t mind that as a regular gate. From zero to an average of well over 7,000 is pretty impressive.

But life will now get tougher on the field for Toronto. There have been hints of big name signings from Super League and NRL clubs ahead of next year, and they’ll need them in order to take the next step.

Illustrious names and new faces

London Broncos hooker Andy Ackers
Andrew Henderson has built an excellent side at London Broncos, with players such as hooker Andy Ackers growing in influence

They will be in a Championship that looks a little like a blue-print for what RFL chiefs might want for Super League. The geographical spread will be breath-taking from a rugby league point of view.

Alongside the Canadians in that league next year – one league below Super League – will be at least one French side, Toulouse, themselves promoted from League One last year and with big ambitions of making the top flight.

There may be two French clubs in there if Catalans are relegated.

London Broncos, who still have an outside chance of promotion this season, will be hoping to build on the terrific progress they’ve been making under head coach Andrew Henderson. They’ll be amongst the promotion candidates in 12 months’ time.

There will also be several of the usual suspects. Firstly, the clubs from the traditional heartland who tend to bob and weave around the top reaches of the Championship, such as Featherstone and Halifax.

And then one of the current Super League clubs currently in relegation trouble – Widnes, Leigh or the aforementioned Catalans – will inevitably be parachuted into that mix as well.

So first job finished by Toronto, but now the real hard work begins.

The work behind the success

Hull KR celebrate promotion
Hull KR’s promotion success was based on togetherness after the anguish of relegation from Super League last term

By way of example of what hard work brings you, they need look no further than this year’s Championship success story Hull Kingston Rovers.

To remind you, Hull KR were dropped down a division in the most dramatic of circumstances 12 months ago. They lost the Million Pound Game against Salford despite being two scores up with only two minutes to play.

Relegation for them came as a seismic shock, their future was in the balance. Relegation for another once great club, Bradford Bulls, proved to be catastrophic. But the reaction in east Hull was incredible.

The reality of life in the lower league proved to have a galvanising effect on a club that chairman and co-owner Neil Hudgell admits now was previously drifting.

Within days of going down, sponsors came back on board to underpin the club’s determination to bounce straight back up and over 6,000 fans pledged their support by buying into a membership scheme. That allowed them to keep their playing staff fully professional.

Big changes were made behind the scenes to the club’s infrastructure, Tim Sheens took over as head coach and a clutch of signings were made.

The result – success. And one of the game’s most traditional of clubs has a new energy and belief as it heads back to the top flight. Most employed at Rovers will say that getting relegated was probably the best thing that could have happened to the club.

Rovers are determined to have a real go at winning silverware next year, not just surviving. And Toronto remain determined that promotion this year is just a step on the journey.

But for the moment, they can both be left to their champagne and that warm fuzzy glow of a job well done.