Monday Morning Halfback: Revolution

Monday Morning Halfback: Revolution

As one tradition was put to a painful and sad end in rugby league heartland, a revolution started over 15,000km away in a country where most people have never even heard of the sport. 

Country-City has been going in its current form since 1987, but its origins date back over 100 years to 1911. The sad demise of the game has been well documented this week, highlighted by scheduling issues and player unavailability. 

The match on the pitch was a good send-off for a game that has meant so much to so many, but has battled for relevance in recent times. 

As the final rights to Country-City were delivered in Mudgee, on the other side of the planet – a world away from traditional rugby league heartland - the Toronto Wolfpack played their first ever home game in front of 6,281 fans in inclement weather. 

The first ever Trans-Atlantic professional sport team have been quite bullish in their approach to rugby league and make no apologies for their grand vision for the game. 

They started their inaugural campaign with five matches on the road in the third tier of English rugby league. And when the Wolfpack go 'on the road' they are actually playing 5,500kms away from home across the North Atlantic Ocean. 

With grand plans to advance quickly out of the lower English divisions, the Wolfpack have been unstoppable, racking up massive wins to head back to Canada with a 5-0 record and a whopping 310-37 point differential. 

But their first home game was always going to be the litmus test. The genesis of this rugby league revolution. 

The Wolfpack attracted over 6,000 fans to their first home game despite freezing temperatures and while they finished the match with only 10 men on the field after two send-offs and a sin-bin, it mattered little as they dominated Oxford RLFC 62-12 to stay undefeated in their division. 

It's a decent start. 

Plenty of expats and new fans alike travelled far and wide to experience the match, and possibly sample the local craft beer on offer in tents at the North end of the ground and a party like atmosphere for Canada's newest sporting franchise. 

CEO Eric Perez told NRL.com previously that rugby league should appeal to Canadians and has been steadfast in his belief that the code will catch on in a big way. 

"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."

If Toronto can continue to build on those 6,000 fans who essentially watched a training run as the fully professional Wolfpack were too strong for the semi-professional Oxford, then real strides could be made and a foothold gained for the code when they inevitably gain promotion to the more competitive leagues and push for Super League inclusion.

While City Origin struggled to form a complete team a week ago for the final Country-City clash in the game's biggest market, the Toronto Wolfpack were paying to fly out their opposition and give them accomodation in a country that has never hosted professional club rugby league. 

It's only early days, but the signs of rugby league's bold revolution are positive. 


Jillaroos on track

The Jillaroos were impressive in their clash with the Kiwi Ferns at GIO Stadium on Friday night, with fitness and strong goal-line defence key to their hard fought victory. 

This was a national side missing superstars Kezie Apps, Steph Hancock, Sam Bremner and Allana Ferguson. It is a testament to the work being done on and off the field that the Jillaroos still had enough strike power and depth to cover these key players. 

The Ferns had plenty of opportunities to score and get back in the contest, but the Jillaroos defence has lifted a gear and they'll take a lot of confidence heading into the World Cup at the end of the season. Especially after sweeping the Ferns at the NRL Auckland Nines earlier this year.

Isabelle Kelly impressed on her debut and scored an incredible try, making the most of her chance after Bremner pulled out the day before the game due to a freak injury at training.

The women's game in this country continues to get stronger. 

This column would love to see the Women's team get their names on the back of their jerseys for the World Cup, so fans can learn who these stars are.  

Won't someone think of the Cowboys

No sooner had Johnathan Thurston come back from a calf injury to help the Kangaroos beat the Kiwis, word spread that the future immortal had injured his shoulder and was in doubt for Origin I. 

What about the Cowboys?

The early prognosis is that the star halfback will be out for four to six weeks, but he'll have scans on Monday that will reveal the extent of the injury. 

Thurston got injured late in Round 6 in the Cowboys shock loss the Wests Tigers and hasn't played in the NRL since. He's been sorely missed as the North Queensland outfit has been beaten by the Dragons and Eels, while they managed to beat the lowly Knights at home. 

The Cowboys sit outside the top eight, with tough games against the Bulldogs, Sharks, Titans, Eels and Storm to come. 

With Lachlan Coote and Jake Granville also injured and Matt Scott out for the season, it has been a tough start for one of the premiership heavies in the opening 10 weeks. 

Pacific Test shows World Cup potential 

The passion and excitement on and off the pitch at Campbelltown Stadium was a real showcase of the international game and a great precursor to the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. 

There is a much different flavour to the sport when it is not played under the NRL banner, completion rates and structures take a backseat to sheer passion and exuberance. 

There were plenty of errors, but there was also plenty of entertainment, especially between Tonga and Fiji who played out a thrilling contest that went down to the wire. 

It was also England's best showing for a number of years and a great building block with their formidable forward pack just too much for Samoa to handle. 

Add Gareth Widdop and the English side could shock a lot of people at the end of the season.