For Paul Rowley, it’s David against Goliath.
But the Toronto Wolfpack coach is eager to see how his newly assembled team, slated to start play in the third tier of English rugby league in early March, does Sunday in its first exhibition game against Hull FC.
It’s a stiff test. Hull FC was formed in 1865. The Wolfpack took their first steps last April at a news conference to announce the franchise’s formation.
Rowley and his coaching staff have been hard at work since November in northern England, building a team from scratch. While the Wolfpack have had informal sessions against Halifax and the Huddersfield Giants in recent weeks, Sunday’s game at the KCOM Stadium in Hull represents the new team’s first official test.
“I’m just interested to see how we stick to our principles and our rules under immense pressure from a very very physical and aggressive side,” said Rowley, a former England hooker. “They’re quite reckless in the way that they go about their business … so we’ll be put under pressure and almost tempted to go into our shell a little bit.
“It’s a good challenge for our boys, an almighty test. Really it’s David and Goliath. It’s about us as staff learning from our players â€” weaknesses and strengths. I’m sure we’ll find out a lot out about them.”
Hull FC, not to be confused with rival Hull Kingston Rovers, won the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup last season when it finished first in the Super League with a 17-6-0 regular-season record but lost to eventual Grand Final winner Wigan in the playoff semifinal.
Choosing an elite team as its exhibition opener is further evidence of the Wolfpack’s high aspirations. CEO Eric Perez and the team’s ownership group â€” comprised of Canadian and Australian entrepreneurs â€” hope the team wins promotion twice to join Hull FC in the Super League.
And it is taking care of travel arrangements of visiting teams along the way thanks to a newly announced three-year sponsorship deal with Air Transat.
The Wolfpack have named England’s Craig Hall, a former Hull FC player, as their first captain with New Zealand-born Samoan international Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e and Ireland’s Bob Beswick as vice-captains.
Togaga’e, known as QLT for simplicity’s sake, will be one of Toronto’s strike runners from his fullback position. Australian-born Rhys Jacks, who plays for Canada internationally thanks to his Toronto-born father, and fellow Aussie Blake Wallace will serve as halfback playmakers.
Former NRL veteran Fuifui Moimoi will be in the forwards.
Toronto opens regular-season play in the Kingston Press League 1 on the road March 4 against the London Skolars. The home opener is May 6 against Oxford RFLC at Lamport Stadium.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press