Match Preview: Toronto Wolfpack vs Coventry Bears

Match by Doug Thomson, League Express

Match Date: Saturday 3rd June, 2017

Times: 16:30 EDT (21:30 BST)

Venue: Lamport Stadium,Toronto

Barrow Raiders returned home on the back of a 70-2 defeat – now Toronto Wolfpack welcome Coventry Bears aiming to maintain their 100 per cent League 1 record.

The victory over the previously unbeaten Raiders put the Wolfpack two points clear at the top of the League 1 table and made the rest of the Rugby League world really sit up and take notice.

Now Paul Rowley’s men aim to reproduce that level of performance and inflict what would be an eighth defeat in nine league matches for the Bears, who are third-bottom, their only win coming on Good Friday at home to Oxford, who were beaten 40-28.

The trip to Canada is huge for Coventry, and not just in terms of distance, because this is only their third season as a semi-professional club.

Coventry

England’s ninth largest city is home to Aston Martin cars, famous music producer Pete Waterman and the well-known Two-Tone movement and Lady Godiva, an English noblewoman who, according to a legend dating to the 13th century, rode naked – covered only by her long hair – through the streets to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation her husband imposed on his tenants.

Situated in the West Midlands (and historically the county of Warwickshire), Coventry is close to both Birmingham and Stratford-upon-Avon, made famous by William Shakespeare, and less than a hundred miles from London. It has a population of around 350,000 as well as two universities.

While dating back to the Middle Ages, Coventry boomed during the Industrial Revolution, with the emergence of large factories producing guns, cars (including Jaguars, Land Rovers and London Taxis) and other metal products. However this manufacturing prowess made the city a prime target during World War Two, when heavy bombing left the beautiful original cathedral in ruins.

During the War, 403 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force, with its Curtiss Hawks, and then Spitfires, was based at what is now Coventry Airport.

While Waterman introduced Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Bananarama and Steps to the world, Two-Tone bands like The Specials and The Selecter fused different styles of music to reflect the multicultural make-up of a city which took on a new look during post-War rebuilding.

As well as the Bears, the city has the famous rugby union club Wasps, who relocated from the South of England in 2014, and soccer in the shape of Coventry City. Both those clubs play at the 32,000-capacity Ricoh Arena. The Coventry Blaze ice hockey team plays at the SkyDome Arena.

Coventry Bears

Coventry can lay claim to being one of the first Rugby League expansion areas, with a club playing the game between 1910-13.

Fast forward to 1998, and the Beats were formed by a group of university students led by former Ireland Rugby League international Alan Robinson (now the managing director). They originally played at the old Coundon Road ground of Coventry Rugby Union Club, with whom they now share the 3,000-capacity Butts Park Arena, built in 2004.

Having been admitted into the Rugby League Conference in 2000, the Bears made the play-off semi-finals in their first season and Grand Final in their second.

In 2002, they beat Hemel Stags in the Grand Final and won a place in the newly-formed National League Three, reaching the Grand Final in 2004.

After resigning from the league, they resurfaced as a Rugby League Conference Midlands Premier side in 2006.

The Bears built themselves up steadily and made the big step up to League One, turning semi-professional in the process, for the 2015 campaign, finishing 12th. They were 11th last season.

This season has been tough going, with the Bears producing bright spells in games but struggling for consistency over the full 80 minutes. However head coach Tom Tsang says he has seen signs of improvement in recent weeks.

“We are all very excited about the trip to Canada,” he added. “We have been watching the Wolfpack’s entry into the league and their impressive progression with interest and can only applaud how they are selling the sport overseas and bringing in new audiences to the greatest game.

“We at the Bears are doing something similar in the Midlands, albeit on more modest budgets, but we embrace any centre that is looking to spread the rugby league gospel.

“Clearly it will be very difficult for us. One look at the league table and playing form will show that there is a gap between us and Toronto. Added to that the travel and acclimatisation required of my semi-professional players and the cards are very obviously stacked against us.

“However we will go there and give it our best and make sure to make the most of the experience and really enjoy ourselves.”

Key Battles

Toronto are aiming to top 500 league points (they are on 482 after eight games) while Coventry will aim to put the brakes on the free-scoring home side and increase Wolfpack’s tally of 73 points against.

It’s fair to say the Bears will have to growl all over the pitch, and coach Tsang could have done without fullback Harry Chapman taking a knock to the head during the 26-18 defeat at home to Gloucestershire All Golds a fortnight ago.

There were similar injuries for winger Jamahl Hunte and forward Joe Prior, while centre Eddie Medforth is a worry because of a knee problem.

Tsang has brought in second row Liam Thompson on loan from York City Knights to add power to a pack which must quieten the likes of prop Fuifui Moimoi, hooker Bob Beswick and second row Richard Whiting, all of whom have international experience.