Wolves at the door: rugby league's English Super League's new world pioneers
The Rugby League World Cup is at our doorstep, but the real evolution in global rugby league is happening in Toronto, Canada with the Toronto Wolfpack - and the USA could be next.
International Rugby league Revolution
Rugby league World Cups are a bit like a one night stand, they're good fun, but ultimately they don't mean anything.
There is plenty to crow about when it comes to the great game. State of Origin is one of the finest spectacles in world sport and the athleticism of the players only gets better.
Yet rugby league still peers over the metaphorical fence and looks on with envy as other codes enjoy true global status.
When Isaac Luke is trying to qualify for Ireland, you know things aren't 100 per cent legit. We stack the minnows with NRL talent to attract interest, but it's still just a novelty.
There are only three teams that have ever won the Rugby League World Cup. Great Britain claimed the trophy three times in 1954, 1960 and 1972, but hasn't really looked likely ever since it split back into England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
New Zealand hoisted the cup in 2008, but beyond that it has been one-way traffic from Australia with a dominant 10 titles.
Papua New Guinea has adopted rugby league as its national sport, but after their Queensland Cup side was absolutely belted by Penrith's reserve grade side on grand final day, it's highly unlikely they will factor.
Put simply, the international game is stagnant. But there is a quiet revolution happening in Canada that could change all of that in the very near future.
The arrival of the Toronto Wolfpack
It all began with a simple letter in 2014. An application penned to the organisers of the UK's Rugby Football League which oversees the Super League competition and all of its feeder leagues.
The difference between this application and others like it was the stamp - it was express posted from Canada.
A consortium led by Canada Rugby League chair Eric Perez were requesting entry into the League 1 competition, two tiers below the Super League, in a bid to work their way to the top.
Nothing like this had ever been done before. Canada had never competed in a 'serious' league before and the English rugby league system had never experienced a team based on the other side of the Atlantic wanting to play against them.
Two years passed and eventually the Toronto Wolfpack was given conditional entry - as long as they paid for the travel and accommodation for visiting teams.
That is a tall order for any side playing what is effectively third grade football, but with powerful financial backers including Australian mining millionaire David Argyle behind them, the Toronto Wolfpack was born.
This was not just a Canadian team, though. Open tryouts were held in Philadelphia, Tampa, Kingston, Vancouver and Toronto across the United States and Canada.
With a team assembled, the Wolfpack began their 2017 campaign in League 1. They destroyed all in their wake, winning all 15 regular season games to gain promotion to The Championship in 2018 - just one tier under the English Super League.
The Toronto Wolfpack grows stronger
Promotion means greater competition for the Wolfpack, but also greater riches to play for. So Toronto went to market.
Next season there will be many familiar faces lining up for the ambitious trans-tasman club, including the Coal Train himself, Dave Taylor.
St George Illawarra halfback Josh McCrone was also recruited, along with former NRL prop Ashton Sims. Dragons back Kalifa Faifai Loa has also signed, and cult NRL star Fui Fui Moi Moi played for the Wolfpack in their maiden season this year.
It's a roster that has clear ambition - Super League or bust.
The rise of global rugby league
The Toronto Wolfpack has not been plotted and planned to be a one off success.
It is part of a bigger picture dream, to establish global franchises as the new normal. High speed internet, mobile devices and social media have connected the world like never before, so why can't rugby league cash in?
While the game is over 120 years old, efforts to grow it as an international spectacle have not grown to any major level. If anything, it has declined with France no longer a threat and Great Britain split back into its separate nations.
But the advent of global rugby league teams could change all of that. Imagine how much the game would grow if it could tap into the North American market at the top flight?
That is the dream Perez has, with a second Canadian team planned for 2019 and then a team in the United States beyond that.
"When we started this journey, we knew that one team is not enough to yield what you need to yield from the market," he said.
"To bring revenues, to really start bringing new money into the sport you've got to have multi-markets.
"Now that Toronto is up and running and in a very good place - definitely the strongest team commercially outside of Super League - it's time to fulfil that destiny and get the next teams set up."
To achieve this goal, Perez plans to partner with established professional sporting codes, much in the same way the revamped Australian netball competition did by allying itself to clubs like the Melbourne Storm and Collingwood Magpies.
Hamilton and Boston are two markets being considered.
"They already have the infrastructure and the expertise set up which will make it easier," Perez said.
And that is not the end of his dream.
"We are looking to make Super League the most commercially viable competition, apart from the Premiership, that plays in the northern hemisphere," Perez said.
"To do that you need to have more North American markets, at least five or six clubs in the next 10 years."
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you grow the international game.