Match preview by Doug Thomson, League Express
Match Date: Saturday July 15th, 2017
Time: 16:30 EDT / 21:30 BST
Venue: Lamport Stadium, Toronto
BIG WEEKEND IN STORE
It’s a big weekend for Toronto Wolfpack – and the rest of League 1 as Hemel Stags head to Canada for the final match of the regular season.
The Wolfpack are guaranteed top spot ahead of the Super 8s, and a 15th win from 15 will condemn the Stags to bottom place as the table splits into two groups of eight clubs.
Barrow Raiders, Whitehaven, York City Knights, Newcastle Thunder and Doncaster will definitely be among the Wolfpack’s Super 8s opponents.
But the other two places are yet to be settled, and Workington Town, Keighley Cougars, North Wales Crusaders, Hunslet and Gloucestershire All Golds are all still in with a shout.
Toronto defeated Gloucestershire 62-10 last time out, and will be seeking another big win to maintain their momentum.
It’s been a tough old season for Hemel, who have won just once, against South Wales Ironmen the weekend before last.
It’s fair to say an away win would be a huge shock, but Paul Rowley and his players will be as professional as ever and as they aim to put on a show in front of their own fans.
Location is the key word in the history of the Stags’ home town.
It has existed as a settlement since the Eighth Century, and was granted a Town Charter in 1539 by King Henry VIII, who enjoyed visits there with Anne Boleyn, the second of his six wives.
Being positioned on the shortest route between London, 24 miles away, and Birmingham (95) gave Hemel Hempstead an important position on England’s road, canal and railway networks.
The arrival of the railway turned it into a commuter area for London, but the biggest growth spurt came soon after the Second World War, when Hemel Hempstead was designated as one of a number of ‘new towns’ to house some of those displaced by the bombing of the capital.
A number of factories and businesses were established to provide employment, and the town now has a population of more than 95,000.
The club has being playing in League 1 since 2013, but was founded back in 1991, originally playing at Southern Amateur level.
Steps forward were taken both in playing strength and developing the Pennine Way Stadium, although a bid to join the semi-professional ranks in 1999 failed.
Having appointed a full-time development officer eight years earlier, the Stags played a key role in establishing Rugby League in local schools, and became one of the strongest clubs in the South of England.
Having finally won admission to the Rugby League’s third tier, Hemel made the play-offs in each of their first two seasons, 2013 and 2014.
They have found the going tougher in recent years, but have stuck to their task and can take pride in producing two players who have figured in Super League – Wigan Warriors’ Dan Sarginson and Kieran Dixon, who played in the top flight for London Broncos, then Hull Kingston Rovers.
The Wolfpack’s Paul Rowley will be pitting his wits against an experienced coach in Troy Perkins.
The 41-year-old Australian has been at the helm for 11 years, having previously played in the NRL and for French clubs Catalans Dragons and Toulouse.
Perkins will be looking for a bright performance from halfback Lewis Fairhurst, who is on a dual-registration deal from Championship side Dewsbury Rams.
Second row Munashe Fumhanda has been playing well, but Hemel are without fullback Mitch Vincent and the versatile Danny Samuel due to injuries.
Home fans will be hoping for another sight of Quinn Ngawati, the first player born and raised in Canada to play for the Wolfpack