Carl Ablett: Community game is well worth a closer look

The crowd at the Challenge Cup third-round tie between Siddal and Toronto Wolfpack. PIC: Jim Fitton
The crowd at the Challenge Cup third-round tie between Siddal and Toronto Wolfpack. PIC: Jim Fitton
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I THINK everybody in the game is excited about Toronto Wolfpack and the impact they might have on our sport.

I am not a great watcher of rugby, but even I booted my laptop up the other week to watch Toronto’s Challenge Cup tie against Siddal.

Challenge Cup third-round action between Siddal and Toronto Wolfpack.

Challenge Cup third-round action between Siddal and Toronto Wolfpack.

I was keen to get a look at the Canadian side, but it was also great to see the amateur game getting some coverage.

Everyone expects Toronto to go unbeaten in League One this year, but the scare Siddal gave them showed how much talent there is in the community game.

When the draw came out I thought Siddal would have their hands full, but then the rain came down and the wind got up and rugby league’s new era turned into an old-fashioned slog.

It was an entertaining watch and I thought Siddal did themselves proud. They are one of the best amateur sides in the county and anybody who has played the game at that level will tell you what a tough place it is to go to and get a win.

Challenge Cup third-round action between Siddal and Toronto Wolfpack.

Challenge Cup third-round action between Siddal and Toronto Wolfpack.

The BBC are doing a fantastic job broadcasting Cup games on their website and it was terrific so see the ground at Siddal packed full.

The BBC are streaming Haydock’s Cup tie against Oldham tomorrow and that will be well worth watching as well.

Like most players, I started at an amateur club and they deserve some positive publicity. It takes a huge effort to run a community club, but without those volunteers there wouldn’t be the players to fill League One, Championship and Super League teams.

It must be a thankless task and the people involved do it because they love the game. I played for Middleton and Hunslet Parkside before I joined the Rhinos and it’s a shame they don’t exist any more.

There are some strong amateur clubs in the Leeds area, like Stanningley, Milford Marlins, East Leeds and Oulton Raiders, but there’s been a lot in the news recently about falling participation levels and I think more has to be done to help grassroots clubs and to get kids – and adults – involved at that level.

Milford play Hunslet Warriors in the National Conference tomorrow and East Leeds and Stanningley are also at home, so if you’ve got a couple of hours free why not pop along? I think people who don’t know much about the community game will be surprised by the quality of rugby on show.

As for Toronto, Siddal gave them their toughest game so far, but I wouldn’t read too much into their first three results.

They were in a no-win situation at Siddal, it was tough conditions and a bit of a mudbath and the Halifax team had nothing to lose.

When they got on to a fast track at London Skolars in their first league game they ran up a big score and they beat Whitehaven in another quagmire last weekend, so they’ve shown they can grind out a tough game and also play some attractive rugby when they get the chance.

I think Toronto will get better and just looking at their squad list it will take a good team to beat them.

I’ve heard they are talking about going straight through the lower divisions into Super League, but it might be a bit tougher than they are expecting.

I think they must be favourites to win League One, but it will be a lot tougher when they move up into the Championship and come up against some full-time teams.

At the moment they are the scalp everybody in their division will be after and rightly so. They’ve had a lot of publicity, but they seem to be walking the walk as well as talking the talk.

They’ve built a strong squad and got TV and sponsorship deals in place and some quality people on board who understand rugby league.

I’m looking forward to seeing what sorts of crowds they get when they start playing games in Toronto.

They way they have gone about things, I don’t see why they can’t be a big success.

We won’t know for a year or two if they are really in it for the long haul, but if they do take off it can only be a good thing for rugby league as a whole.

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