Leeds Rhinos chief Gary Hetherington welcomes Toronto Wolfpack to top flight

LEEDS RHINOS chief executive Gary Hetherington reckons Toronto Wolfpack will enhance Betfred Super League next year.

Tuesday, 8th October 2019, 06:00 am
Leeds Rhinos Chief Exec Gary Hetherington. New Facilities in the £43m new stand at The Emerald Stadium, Headingley. 18 June 2019. Picture Bruce Rollinson

The Canadian side were promoted to the top flight – at the end of only their third season – after beating Featherstone Rovers in the Championship Grand Final.

Not everyone has welcomed that result, with some fans voicing fears over the cost and logistics of travel to Toronto and the lack of away support brought by Wolfpack to games in this country.

But Hetherington travelled to the game three days ago and came back impressed with what the club have achieved on and off the field.

Picture by Vaughn Ridley/SWpix.com - 05/10/2019 - Rugby League - Betfred Championship Grand Final - Toronto Wolfpack v Featherstone Rovers - Lamport Stadium, Toronto, Canada - Captain Josh McCrone of the Toronto Wolfpack lifts the Betfred Championship Trophy.

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“I went with an open mind and my experience – of the city, the people and the Toronto Wolfpack – was all positive,” Hetherington said.

“There are certainly logistical issues and challenges – they can’t play in Toronto until the middle of April, it is a six-hour flight to get there and they don’t have any of their own players, which is something they will have to start to develop.

“But, all in all, I think it is a very positive thing.

“I think they will bring some colour to Super League, they will certainly have a very competitive Super League team and the fans who go will enjoy the experience.”

Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com - 16/02/2019 - Rugby League - Betfred Championship - Toronto Wolfpack v Widnes Vikings - Kingston Park, Newcastle, England - Toronto coach Brian McDermott.

Hetherington said there has already been significant interest from Rhinos fans and corporate guests in travelling to Leeds’ game in Canada next season.

Super League’s ‘loop fixtures’ – which see some clubs playing each other three times – will mean a trio of teams facing two away games against Toronto.

But Hetherington said the first of those trips is expected to be early in the season, when Wolfpack will play their home games outside Canada.

“Nobody will be going there twice,” he said. “They will need to play some of their fixtures outside of Toronto.

“I think every Super League club will be visiting Toronto next year, but only once.”

The Grand Final attracted Toronto’s record crowd of more than 10,000.

“It was a terrific experience,” Hetherington said of the game and occasion.

“The event itself was very vibrant and there was a great atmosphere and crowd.

“The public there aren’t versed in rugby league, but they seem to enjoy the sport and there was great support for the team and, I have to say, the people in charge have done a great job staging a big event.

“More importantly, I was really interested to find out if Toronto Wolfpack have made any cut-through – that’s recognition in the city.

“The game was featured on free-to-air television in Toronto, it was mentioned in the press and the hotel I stayed in had it listed in their major events for the weekend.

“Quite a lot of people I spoke to seem to know about the Wolfpack. There’s been rugby league in Jacksonville, Florida, for 20 years with limited cut-through – and the same in Melbourne, in reality, but Toronto seem to have quite a bit of it.”