Toronto Wolfpack's plan to revolutionise the game
They have just signed former NRL star Fuifui Moimoi and announced a landmark broadcast television deal that will see them promoted across the UK and that is just the beginning of Toronto Wolfpack's ambitious plan to take the rugby league world by storm.
Canada's first professional rugby league team will start their inaugural season in the UK's third division in 2017, but they don't plan on being down there long.
For the Wolfpack's CEO Eric Perez, it is the culmination of a journey he started in 2010 when he quit his job in advertising with a hair brain view to bring rugby league to Canada.
The recent announcement of a broadcast deal, new kit sponsor and signing of Moimoi is just phase one of his bold plan to revolutionise the world rugby league landscape and create a seismic shift in the game.
"My dream is to have four or five North American sides in the RFL," Perez told NRL.com.
"If we can do that, all of a sudden the market for rugby league in the Northern Hemisphere becomes much bigger. It is monstrous in Australia, but if we do this, then we could attract massive broadcast deals and compete and have as strong – if not stronger – teams. I believe that is the future."
The appointment of former Great Britain captain and coach Brian Noble - the first coach to win three Super League Grand Finals – as the Director of Football and the recent addition of 200 NRL gamer Moimoi is the start of a plan that would see the Wolfpack quickly progress through the divisions into the Super League.
Moimoi is seen as the tip of the iceberg, with the club hoping to attract more big-name NRL stars in the not-too-distant future.
"It is our goal to get promoted first time around and make a big investment in year two and then get some more well-known Australian superstars to come over at the backend of our second season," Perez continued.
"Hopefully we can get those sort of guys out here and that will push us over the top and get us into Super League in two successive years. That is obviously a huge task."
With two historic pre-season games announced against 2016 Challenge Cup Champions Hull FC and the 2016 Super League Champions Wigan Warriors, the Wolfpack are making a bold statement.
Toronto's first ever game will demonstrate the vast divide in the game's shifting heartland. Hull FC was founded in 1865 making it officially two years older than the Dominion of Canada itself which was established in 1867.
The weight of history is an interesting point of difference rather than a millstone burdening the potential of the Toronto-based outfit according to Perez.
"If you are going to be a champion you have to get in there with champions, play against them, mix in with them and see how you go. That is the only way to become a champion," he enthused.
"We thought the best way to start off our perpetual history in this game was to start off against the best two sides in the country. We are super excited by that.
"If we take it on the chin, it is never a bad thing to be humbled early on, to keep you grounded for when you are on a winning run later.
"To us, these two matches are test matches. We are testing ourselves against the very best in the Northern Hemisphere. With no disrespect, we are operating on a different plane to the other clubs in our division. We want to set ourselves above those clubs from day one and what better way than this."
The sport has experienced exponential growth in Canada since 2010. The Canadian women's team have qualified for the 2017 World Cup, while the men's national team – the Canada Wolverines – have recently moved into the top 12 in the world rankings.
With a soon-to-be-announced Canadian broadcast deal to work alongside the landmark UK deals, not to mention their own reality show that is currently in production, Perez believes the Wolfpack will rapidly gain momentum in the North American market.
The club also has big plans for their home games in Toronto with a festival of rugby league to incorporate junior matches, high school, senior club and Tonronto Wolfpack matches.
"Not only will we have pathways and continue to build them, we will put them on display to put them on the big stage," he said.
"We have massive TV deals across the UK, Ireland and more. I can't announce the Canada one yet, but it is a big one and we are super exicted."
It is expected Toronto's home ground Lamport Stadium – to be renamed 'The Den' – will attract average crowds of over 8,000 fans and the Wolfpack will garner attention and popularity across the country and beyond.
"Rugby league is the easiest sport to understand for the North American fan, because it is the predecessor to American Football," Perez said.
"Anyone who watches a few sets of rugby league can pick up the basics straight away. It makes sense. That is the key. The pace, the hard-hitting nature, the non-stop action, the whole ambiance speaks to our very psyche as a country.
"I think we'll see the Toronto Wolfpack inspiring a genesis of rugby league exploding in North America.
"The original goal was to go straight into Super League. But I am actually happy it turned out this way, because promotion and relegation in Canada is a complete unknown phenomenon. Fans in Toronto and Canada looked at that model and thought it is a real authentic way of determining which teams deserve to be in the top division.
"I think people of Canada will be excited by the journey and following us on our road to the Super League.
"Phase one of the mission is road to the Super League and we hope that all other rugby league fans get behind us as their second-favourite team.
"When I see things like the women's team entering the World Cup, I am so proud of everything we have achieved.
"It is an exciting rugby league story, it is something different and something to get excited about. It is a great second team opportunity for fans over in Australia to get on board.
"You have to be a Wolfpack fan, I see no reason why we can't be everyone's second favourite team, it's an exciting project. And everyone should get on board from the ground level."
Toronto will play their first official League One fixture on Saturday, March 4 against London Skolars. It will be the beginning of quite a logistical undertaking with the club set to have two bases of operation, with two completely separate markets across what was at one point an unsurmountable obstacle in the Atlantic Ocean.
The 10,000km round journey will be made easier for the players on either side of the divide with home and away matches scheduled in small blocks.
The team who finishes on top of League One will automatically be promoted into the Championship (second division), while teams that finish on the table second to fifth will enter a playoff. The winner of second v fifth and third v fourth will enter a promotion match for Championship entry.
For more information visit Toronto Wolfpack's website.