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Wolfpack look to play World Cup champion Australia in Toronto in October

TORONTO — The Toronto Wolfpack are thinking big on the eve of their debut season in the top-tier Betfred Super League. The transatlantic rugby league team is looking to play reigning World Cup champion Australia at Toronto's BMO Field in October.
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TORONTO — The Toronto Wolfpack are thinking big on the eve of their debut season in the top-tier Betfred Super League.

The transatlantic rugby league team is looking to play reigning World Cup champion Australia at Toronto's BMO Field in October.

Wolfpack chairman and CEO Bob Hunter said while the game is not yet confirmed, the team has had discussion with Australia officials. The 11-time World Cup champion Kangaroos will be touring ahead of the rugby league's first Ashes series with England in 17 years.

The three-match Ashes series opens Oct. 31 at the University of Bolton Stadium before heading to Elland Road in Leeds on Nov. 7 and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London on Nov. 14.

Hunter said the tentative date for a Toronto game is Oct. 24.

"They want to do it," he said of the Australians. "The challenge becomes TFC (Toronto FC) being in the (MLS) playoffs. The stadium has been reluctant to give us the date. I'd say it's still under consideration."

TFC's last regular-season game is Oct. 4. The CFL Argonauts play in Winnipeg on Oct. 17, followed by a bye week and a home game against Edmonton on Oct. 31.

The Wolfpack, whose regular season ends Sept. 11, have made it clear they want to expose rugby league — and their brand — to as many people as possible. They have looked at playing games in big European cities and believe hosting the Kangaroos in Toronto will give the sport and franchise a big boost.

The Kangaroos, who have won the Rugby League World Cup 11 times including eight of the last nine tournaments, fell to No. 2 behind New Zealand in the International Rugby League world rankings after the conclusion of the 2019 season.

International rugby league has come to North American before. England and New Zealand drew a crowd of 19,320 when they met in June 2018 at Empower Field at Mile High, home of the Denver Broncos. 

Hunter, after attending the Wolfpack's media day Wednesday in Manchester, England, said star signing Sonny Bill Williams has been given permission to miss the third game of the season to return home to New Zealand for the birth of his fourth child.

The Wolfpack open the season Feb. 2 against Castleford Tigers before facing Salford Red Devils on Feb. 8. The 34-year-old Williams, a former All Black, has been given permission to miss the Feb. 13 game against Wigan.

"He's ready to go and for sure is ready to go for Games 1 and 2," said Hunter.

Game 4 is Feb. 21 against Warrington, giving Williams a decent break.

The Wolfpack are finalizing negotiations with Sky TV on how many games they will show from Toronto, with Hunter saying the number will be "quite significant." Sky will produce the games with Toronto sharing the costs.

Canadian fans will be able to see the games, Hunter said without elaborating.

Under terms of their acceptance to Super League, Toronto will not share in the Sky TV revenue — which amounts to some 2.3 million pounds (C$4 million) per team — in 2020.

"But we'll be very quickly in discussions about the 2021 season," said Hunter.

The Wolfpack are also continuing discussion with rugby league authorities about some form of salary cap relief. Toronto is arguing that it needs the kind of help the London Broncos got back in the day to help defray the higher cost of living in the English capital.

The Wolfpack pay for the accommodation of both their players and visiting teams in Toronto.

Coach Brian McDermott says he currently has 23 players under contract with little room for any more under the salary cap of 2.1 million pounds ($3.6 million). Like Major League Soccer, rugby league allows for marquee players — two per team — with only a portion of their pay counting against the cap.

Williams and Australian-born Samoan international centre Ricky Leutele are the Wolfpack's marquee players.

With teams dressing 17 players for a game, including four on the bench, the Wolfpack roster leaves little in reserve given the physical nature of the sport.

Williams, former England international Jon Wilkin and Toronto captain Josh McCrone attended the media day at Manchester City's training facility.

Toronto's home opener at Lamport Stadium is April 18 against Hull FC.

 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2020.

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Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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