The future of the first transatlantic rugby league team Toronto Wolfpack is looking incredibly uncertain as Super League continues to delay on inviting them back into Super League next season. Despite the uncertainty former Leigh, Salford and Toronto star Cory Paterson has backed the club, believing the club can thrive if given the chance.
Paterson played for the Wolfpack in 2018, spending a season playing for the expansion franchise before retiring for the first time at the end of the 2018 season.
Toronto Wolfpack played their inaugural campaign in 2017 and Paterson, who joined the club after leaving the Leigh Centurions was one of the first players to experience life in Canada.
The Australian, who has since become the owner of Jacora’s Coffee shop in Astley remembers his time in Canada’s largest city fondly.
Paterson was excited to experience a different culture and to experience something few rugby league players had done before him. The Australian spoke of his time in Canada in fondly when he spoke to me over the summer.
Cory Paterson on his time in Canada
“I loved it mate! It was probably one of my most favourite years of my whole career. Just the excitement, the uncertainty of it, the people over there are beautiful, the food was great, the fans were unreal,” Paterson said
“It was just a great experience and I am glad it is something I got to do.”
The club earned promotion from League One and the Championship in their first three years in rugby league. However, the club withdrew from Super League this season due to financial difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
A number of Super League teams are ready to end the Toronto expansion before allowing the venture to realise its full potential.
However, Paterson believes that the club should be given a fair chance to succeed and that the club should only be judged in around two years time.
“Let it run its course, let’s see how it unfolds with the people and organisation. People are scared of change, people are scared of difference, let it unravel a little bit and ask me again in 18-24 months,” Paterson added.
Toronto providing a breeding ground for rugby league talent
The Super League is traditionally based in the North West of England and aside from that region, rugby league is virtually non-existent in the rest of the United Kingdom. Paterson believes that Toronto could provide a new breeding ground for stars, but it will take time.
“You’re not going to breed a culture of rugby league players in five years.” I don’t think it’ll be until 10-15 years that culture of training and coaching is instilled into kids“. Paterson stated
The Wolfpack have been criticised for their failure to develop any Canadian players. This is despite the club having only been active for four years.
Paterson makes reference to the NBA’s Toronto Raptors
This is similar to what the NBA’s Toronto Raptors faced when the NBA expanded into Canada in the late 90’s.
Paterson used Canada’s expanding pool of NBA talent as evidence that rugby league could have similar success in Canada. The Australian referenced 2019 NBA draft third overall pick RJ Barrett as an example of Canada’s newly developing crop of basketball stars.
The former Leigh man believes that rugby league will be able to develop young talent in North America if given the time.
“RJ Barrett is one of the best players to come through in ages and he is Canadian. You’re not going to breed that culture of rugby players in a few years, you need to start now when they’re between seven and eight years old” Paterson said.
Paterson believes Rugby league can follow basketball in Canadian sporting folklore
Since the Raptors entered the NBA in 1995 basketball has become one of the country’s most popular sports. Although rugby league is a number of years behind, progress is clearly evident.
The Wolfpack consistently got 10,000+ fans in attendance for home games, significantly more than a number of Super League. Paterson believes the interest the sport is able to generate will help develop another pool of talented rugby league players.
“Canada now everyone is playing basketball, it is a cultural thing that is what will happen with rugby league hopefully kids kicking rugby balls at the park etc,” Paterson said.
“It will take time but the skeptics are always going to judge it on this season and last season and probably the next three or four seasons but it’ll take time.”
If used correctly the Wolfpack can be a godsend for the declining game of rugby league, however, as Paterson reiterated the project is going to take some time before we see its full potential.