Toronto beat Featherstone to secure Betfred Super League place

Celebrations for Toronto
Celebrations for Toronto

Super League will have a North American presence in 2020 after Toronto Wolfpack won the Betfred Championship Grand Final to earn promotion.

The Wolfpack overturned a 6-4 interval deficit, scoring 20 unanswered points to beat part-timers Featherstone 24-6 in the Million Pound Game in front of a record sell-out crowd of 9,974 at the Lamport Stadium.

Toronto, formed in 2016 with the aim of reaching Super League within five years, achieved their mission at the second attempt after suffering a shock 4-2 defeat by London Broncos 12 months earlier.

Featherstone, too, had high hopes of reaching Super League for the first time after gaining play-off away wins over three of the teams to finish above them in the table, Leigh, York and Toulouse, but this proved to be a game too far.

Rovers, who became the first away team to win at the Lamport Stadium in July 2018, had spent 24 hours getting from their previous game in the south of France to Ontario and the home side took advantage of their tired bodies in the second half.

The victory enabled Brian McDermott's men to complete the season unbeaten at the Lamport Stadium and provided a fitting farewell to veteran prop Ashton Sims, who brought the curtain down on a 17-year career spread across three continents.

Featherstone, who finished 18 points behind the Wolfpack in the Championship, knocked their hosts of their stride with their energetic defence in a fast and furious opening.

They took the lead on 27 minutes when Wolfpack winger Liam Kay failed to clear the danger caused by Dane Chisholm's grubber kick and centre Alex Sutcliffe pounced on the loose ball.

Chisholm added the conversion to make it 6-0 but Toronto hit back four minutes later through skipper Josh McCrone, who took Andy Ackers' pass close to the line to force his way over.

Gareth O'Brien was wide with the goalkick to leave his side trailing 6-4 at the break but McDermott's interval pep talk clearly did the trick.

O'Brien was held up over the line and Jon Wilkin was hauled down just short as the home side turned up the pressure, which paid off when substitute Blake Wallace forced his way over on 56 minutes to give them the lead for the first time before supplying a try-scoring pass for second rower Bodene Thompson.

O'Brien converted both tries to open up a 10-point lead and stand-off Joe Mellor made sure when he jinked his way through a tiring Featherstone defence 11 minutes from time.

Wallace added the conversion and kicked a last-minute penalty to wrap up the scoring.

Match reaction

Former Leeds and London coach Brian McDermott is urging Super League to embrace Toronto after guiding them to promotion from the Championship.

The Wolfpack made it to the top flight three years after being launched thanks to a 24-6 victory over Featherstone in the Million Pound Game in Ontario.

It means Super League will have a North American presence in 2020 while Ottawa and New York are due to enter League One in 2021 and McDermott believes big-city teams are vital for the game to grow.

"Toronto is a mega sporting city - they've got the Raptors (basketball), the Maple Leafs (ice hockey), the Blue Jays (baseball), they've got Toronto FC, the Argonauts (Canadian Football) and we're part of that," McDermott told Sky Sports.

"We hope to have a higher profile now we're on a higher stage. It's just a fantastic story.

"Super League needs to be able to sell a final to some potential investors or a TV deal which says it's going to be competed for by big city teams because in five years' time if the Super League or the Challenge Cup finals are still competed for by small towns in the north of England - Featherstone are a magnificent story and so are Salford - but who are we going to sell that to is the interesting point.

"If we're competing for a final In five years and we're sat around a table with the TV deals and the mega sponsors and we're saying one of our teams starts with Toronto and the other name of the team starts with London or Barcelona or New York, that's how the game grows.

"I know there's a few people opposed to us being in the comp but we can't please everybody."

McDermott, who guided Leeds to four Super League Grand Finals, has taken Toronto into the big time in his first season and is excited by the potential of the Canadian club, who drew a record crowd of 9,974 to the Lamport Stadium for Saturday's match.

"It's brilliant and it's a different story," he said. "You can't compare them.

"The experience and the event here is out of this world. It's a different part of the world, it's different weather, the fans are different.

"I had this feeling when I coached London for five years, you knew you were involved with something that was very big.

"It's a special day for sure. You can't ignore what's going on here. It's not just a manufactured product, it's absolutely a strong brand."

Former St Helens and England forward Jon Wilkin is confident the Wolfpack will make a major contribution to Super League.

"I hope people watch this and realise what Toronto has got to offer the game," he said.

"This isn't fake, this is genuine. There's an amazing atmosphere at this ground and I'd love for Super League teams to bring a thousand fans here."

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