Match Preview by Matthew Shaw of League Express
Toronto Wolfpack v Oxford RLFC
Competition: Kingstone Press League 1 Round 6
Match Date: Saturday 6th May 2017
Kick-off Time: 16:30 EDT, 21.30 BST
Venue: Lamport Stadium, Toronto
The big day will finally arrive tomorrow (Saturday).
Following almost a year of waiting, Toronto Wolfpack will finally host their first ever home game in what could prove to be one of the most historic moments in the history of Rugby League football.
So far this season the Wolfpack occupy the top spot in Kingston Press League 1, having won all five of their away games on the road, running up 310 points and conceding only 37.
The Wolfpack’s first visitors are Oxford RLFC, who currently occupy tenth place in League 1, having won two of their opening four league games.
Coached by Tim Rumford, who has links to current Super League leaders Castleford Tigers, Oxford enjoyed steady progress, which has culminated in a promising start to the season, having also advanced to the semi-final of the League 1 Cup before being knocked out last weekend by Barrow Raiders.
Oxford threatened to stun the only other unbeaten League 1 side at half-time, going into the break only 20-14 down, but they conceded 44 unanswered points in the second-half to fall to a heavy defeat.
Also known as the Blues, Oxford are one of the newest members of the semi-professional league structure, having been founded in 2012 to become one of the ‘expansion’ clubs in League 1 as Rugby League sought to consolidate from its northern heartland in England.
The Blues originally finished sixth in their maiden season in League 1, albeit in a smaller nine-team competition, and as the league increased the number of teams they dropped down the league, finishing 10th in 2015 and 14th last year.
The city of Oxford is of course renowned for being the home of one of the most ancient and prestigious universities in the western hemisphere. No one is quite sure of the precise date when the University was founded, but some suggest a date as early as 1096. The University is a collegiate research university with around 23,000 students, with around 35 per cent being international students. And it is consistently ranked as one of the leading universities in the world.
The Oxford Rugby League Club can trace its origins back to the development of Rugby League within the University, which first established a Rugby League club in 1976. Since 1981 it has played an annual fixture against its great rival, the University of Cambridge.
Former Oxford students, when they left the university, went on to establish an amateur Rugby League club in Oxford and, when the idea was first put forward almost a decade ago that a semi-professional club could be formed, they agreed to play their home games at the historic Iffley Road stadium, the home of Oxford University Rugby (Union) Football Club. The stadium is next door to the Oxford University sports centre, which includes the running track where Roger Bannister recorded the first sub-four-minute mile in 1956.
In 2016 the club moved its home to Abingdon’s Tilsley Park ground, which gave the club more control over its home venue. Their coach Tim Rumford has strong links with Super League club Castleford Tigers, which has enabled Oxford to recruit young players from the vibrant Castleford nursery
Paul Rowley’s men will be keen to exploit any potential fragility in the Oxford ranks with a strong performance in front of the Wolfpack’s new Canadian supporters. They will expect to register another impressive victory against a side that should struggle to contain them.
Ryan Brierley is set to make his league debut for the Wolfpack after an impressive showing in the narrow Challenge Cup defeat to Salford Red Devils, although the Wolfpack will be without the iconic Fui Fui Moi Moi and former Leeds Rhinos forward Ryan Bailey. Former Warrington forward James Laithwaite will miss out after he sustained a neck injury against the Red Devils.