The Toronto Wolfpack, a new professional rugby league side, is in the middle of their inaugural pre-season. League has always been somewhat on the fringes of North American rugby. We've never had the bitter divide that exists in other places with most (there are exceptions) not having a problem with either code. Union has dominated in North America with League mostly seen as an offseason activity. While the emergence of the Wolfpack is going to change that dynamic, especially if they move up the ladder and sign more Americans, there is still no reason to think that the Wolfpack and something like PRO Rugby won't peacefully co-exist.
Even if you cannot stand League the Wolfpack bear watching. For the last few years American fans have heard the constant chatter of the Pro12 or Super Rugby being interested in America. Each time one of the main objections has been figuring out the logistics of trans-oceanic play. The Wolfpack are trying to show that it isn't as big of a problem as thought.
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The Wolfpack are playing in the third division of England this year and are paying for visiting teams to come to Toronto. They have also schedule big blocks of time on the road in England and long home stretches in order to save on costs. While in England they will be training at the home grounds of an amateur club. There are several things to take away from this experiment. First is how much the bottom line is impacted by paying for opposing teams travel. Toronto expects to get 3-5,000 fans per match and they are hoping that is enough to pay for all of their expenses. If it is then it shows that with the right amount of fan support fielding a team is possible. The Wolfpack aren't going to break the bank with wages and if the U.S. played in Super Rugby or the Pro12 costs would be substantially higher but at least the travel wouldn't be an issue.
A second thing that demands watching is how the long stretches on the road and at home impact the team's form. They could make up for some roster weaknesses with good time together at home while forcing teams to travel. They could also be exposed on the road. If the U.S. were to put a team in Super Rugby or the Pro12 there would be competitiveness issues to start and it would be bad if they were exaggerated by a rough home schedule. Just look at how much traveling the Sunwolves had to do last year.
Another thing the Wolfpack are trying to solve is getting around the Toronto winter. Playing matches in the winter in Toronto is nearly impossible. Not many fans are going to show up in below freezing temperatures only to sit in the wind coming off Lake Ontario. However, if they can show that late spring is a good time to host matches (and conversely early fall) then it would show how blocking out matches could work for a Pro12 East Coast team.
It bears repeating that the Wolfpack would not be on the same scales as a Super Rugby or Pro12 franchise. The payroll is much lower and they have some travel advantages in England (most teams are concentrated in the north). Any U.S. or Canadian Pro12 team would have to come up with a lot more money and deal with more matches and travel. However, if the Wolfpack and show that the basic blueprint is successful then there might be an impetus to expand it out further. Right now we sit and watch.