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Toronto Wolfpack to face ‘strongest opposition’ yet in Challenge Cup

The Toronto Wolfpack will be taking on history when they visit the Warrington Wolves in the sixth round of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup on Sunday.

Founded in 1876, the Wolves have lifted the Cup eight times. Second-year Toronto, rugby league’s lone transatlantic team, has played just five games in the historic knockout competition.

But Wolfpack coach Paul Rowley is relishing the chance to take on the Super League side.

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“We’ve been to all weird and wonderful places on our travels up to now this year. So to play at a good stadium against a great team is a good platform for them.”

Warrington (10-4-0) stands third in the elite Super League standings and has won nine straight in all competitions since dropping a 30-12 decision to league-leading St. Helens on March 9.

Toronto (11-1-1) tops the second-tier Betfred Championship table and has won 11 straight in all competitions, despite playing only one game at home due to renovations at Lamport Stadium.

Sunday marks just the second time the Wolfpack have faced a Super League team in a competitive game. Toronto lost 29-22 to the Salford Red Devils in the fifth round of last year’s Challenge Cup.

Toronto is relatively healthy going into the game with only Gary Wheeler (bicep tear) and Jack Buchanan (shoulder) unavailable

Toronto’s Ashton Sims, Gareth O’Brien, Matty Russell and Wheeler all played for Warrington in the past. Sims, an Australian-born Fiji international, still lives in Warrington.

“It’s nice for them to come back,” Rowley said. “There’s reasons to be enthusiastic and excited about the game. There’s enough already but that adds an extra bit of spice.”

“There’s no better feeling than belting one of your best friends,” added Rowley, a former England hooker. “That’s what we’ll be intending to do.”

Russell, a Scottish international acquired May 1, only joined Toronto for training this week and will likely sit this weekend out.

The Challenge Cup has been held annually since 1896, with the exception of 1915-19 and 1939-40. Warrington has lifted the trophy eight times, finishing runner-up on eight other occasions.

Rowley says in the ever-changing world of sport, the Challenge Cup has been a constant — “dating back nearly as long as Canada itself.”

In the world of rugby league, it is sacrosanct.

“So every boy grows up dreaming of featuring in the Challenge Cup and walking out (for the final) at Wembley Stadium, the most exclusive and proud stadium in England, right in the centre of London. It’s what dreams are made of,” said Rowley.

“You don’t get many chances to play in it, to get there. And chances soon pass. The Challenge Cup brings reward and jeopardy, lots of desperation and tears of happiness and tears of sadness. So it’s got everything. It is a total mixed bag of emotions, it’s the whole thing rolled into one. For me it’s the No. 1 competition that this sport offers.”

As a player, Rowley never got further than the quarter-finals — which await the Wolfpack if they win Sunday. He did play at Wembley for the Great Britain under-21 side — and also played there on an under-11 side prior to the 1985 final.

Wigan beat Hull that year before a crowd of 99,801, a record for the Cup final at Wembley.

The Wolfpack, whose lone blemish this season was a 47-16 loss to the London Broncos on Feb 25, were drawn at home but will play at the Wolves’ Halliwell Jones Stadium due to the Lamport renovations.

TORONTO STAR