Win or lose this weekend, nothing changes for the Toronto Wolfpack.
It is the most important game of the season to date, but the ramifications will not become clear until summer turns to fall.
Regardless of the result between the top two teams in the Betfred Championship this weekend, the Wolfpack will remain in top spot. Toulouse Olympique will continue to snap at its heels.
Toronto is trying to earn some breathing space. Toulouse is intent on suffocating the Wolfpack — just as it did two months ago in France. A Wolfpack win gives them a six-point cushion at the top; Toulouse knows this is the chance to pull within just two.
But this is more than just an arm wrestle between two well-prepared and well-drilled teams. In all likelihood this is a full dress rehearsal for the promotion playoffs. When that day arrives, only one team can claim the ultimate prize — a coveted place in Super League next season.
The Rugby League diehards are not impressed. The traditionalists like it just the way it is. In England, the 13-man code has always enjoyed a loyal following in the North. St Helens, Wigan, Bradford, Leeds and Hull are clubs synonymous with success and historic rivalries.
Upstart Canadian team
Super League already has one French team. The English fans probably don’t fancy another, and they certainly won’t take kindly to some upstart Canadian team daring to challenge the establishment next year. Those fans need to start preparing themselves for one scenario or the other.
Toronto and Toulouse cannot wait to confront the status quo. Both are itching for the opportunity to test themselves against the giants of the game. But first they must focus on outsmarting each other at the Summer Bash festival.
This is where the psychology kicks in. Round 1 was squarely won by the Frenchmen, but there are several more rounds in this season long battle. Another Toulouse win would prove beyond a reasonable doubt they not only have the physical endurance but also the mental fortitude to outlast the Wolfpack.
Naturally, Toronto is eager the square the series. Its only blemish in an otherwise perfect campaign occurred in France and it was a heavy defeat. Brian McDermott’s team needs to erase that from the memory banks and show Toulouse that it is firmly in control of its own destiny.
Just in the nick of time, the Wolfpack can rely on its game changer. Liam Kay finally returned from injury for his first appearance of the season against Bradford. The flying winger celebrated his comeback with a trademark try, and with half the regular season remaining Kay will be impatient to make up for lost time.
Russell out with injury
In his absence, Matty Russell has done much of the heavy lifting. The Scottish international has run in a club leading 15 tries but has missed the last couple of games through injury. Russell will, again, be absent against Toulouse, so Kay’s return could not have been better timed.
Both clubs arrive well-rested and in form. Neither Toronto nor Toulouse had to concern themselves with the distraction of the Challenge Cup last weekend and while the Wolfpack survived a strong challenge from the Bulls in Round 13, their French rivals romped to a 38-0 victory at Dewsbury.
The seaside town of Blackpool is hosting this seven-game festival of rugby. Neutral territory for what promises to be a fascinating encounter between two teams separated by continent and culture, but chasing exactly the same dream.
The summer bash is on. Oh, wait – did someone say ‘summer’? They’re expecting rain in Blackpool over the weekend. Sounds like a typical English summer’s day to me.