Toronto Wolfpack fight back twice to avoid shock defeat by amateur champions Siddal

Siddal 6 Toronto Wolfpack 14: The trans-Atlantic visitors were forced twice to dredge themselves back from behind in order to avoid a historic Challenge Cup third-round upset

Mark Staniforth
Saturday 25 February 2017 19:54
Toronto Wolfpack's Craig Worthington celebrates with team-mate Quentin Laulu Tugagae after scoring a try
Toronto Wolfpack's Craig Worthington celebrates with team-mate Quentin Laulu Tugagae after scoring a try

Sport's brave new trans-Atlantic era kicked off amid a mud-bath on a rain-lashed Halifax hillside on a day the assorted international stars of Toronto Wolfpack will not easily forget.

Rugby league's latest and most ambitious expansion outfit prevailed 14-6 against amateur champions Siddal in their first competitive outing, but were forced twice to dredge themselves back from behind in order to avoid a historic Challenge Cup third-round upset.

Beamed live worldwide via the BBC, Wolfpack's big debut had threatened to sink deeper than the touchline mud when Gareth Blackburn kicked the hosts into a first-half lead, then again when the same player was sent in for their only try shortly after the break.

Late tries from Greg Worthington and Adam Sidlow dug Toronto out of a hole but they had New Zealand star Fuifui Moimo sent off late on a game that ultimately said more about the great talent in the game's true heartland than the glamorous quest to send it spinning around the globe.

Siddal's Joe Martin tackles Toronto Wolfpack's Jack Bussey (PA)

Siddal had never seen anything quite like it: their hardcore crowd of a couple of hundred swollen well above a thousand despite conditions which worsened throughout the game - and a plummeting temperature only three degrees higher than that currently being experienced in the Canadian winter.

Toronto arrived with big expectations, having spent over a million pounds preparing for their League 1 campaign which will begin at London Skolars next weekend, and which will involve shipping all opposing teams out to play at their 10,000-capacity Lamport Stadium free of charge.

If the Wolfpack one day manage to realise their bullish ambitions of matching the might of Wigan and Leeds in Super League, they will hark back to their close shave amid the heavily buffeted burger and beer tents on this Halifax hillside.

They had no reason to assume anything other than the expected landslide as they pegged their hosts back in the opening exchanges, but heroic home defending kept the visitors at bay until a high kick saw Blackburn kick Siddal into an unlikely lead.

Toronto Wolfpak's Craig Hall is held up by the Siddal defence

US Eagles captain Ryan Burroughs responded with the Wolfpack's first competitive try to give his side the edge at half-time, but the hosts were far from done and Blackburn brought the house down when he pounced on a grubber kick to edge Siddal back in front.

Toronto's million-pound preparations finally paid off in the later stages as the amateurs tired, but finished full of praise for their hosts, with Wolfpack director of rugby Brian Noble - resplendent in black wellies which matched his club coaching kit - quick to pay tribute.

The former Bradford and Wigan coach told Press Association Sport: "Big credit has to go to Siddal who were magnificent. The weather conditions clearly helped but I'm confident they would beat half a dozen teams in League One.

"You've got to look at the traits of character and the fact is with 20 minutes Siddal were winning and we pulled through.

"We've going to face a lot of challenges this season when the conditions aren't right and some other aspects of the game aren't going in our favour, and we will remember a challenge like this."


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