Match Preview: Super 8s Toronto Wolfpack vs Whitehaven RLFC

Match Preview by Doug Thomson, League Express
Match Date: Saturday, September 2nd
Time: 4:30PM EDT (9:30PM BST)
Venue: Lamport Stadium, Toronto

NO SAFE HAVEN FOR WOLFPACK

With three Super 8s games to go, the hungry Wolfpack are hunting down promotion to the Championship – and a win over Whitehaven would be doubly significant.

Not only would it strengthen the grip Paul Rowley’s side have on the leadership, it would also end Whitehaven’s outside hopes of finishing top of the pile.

Whitehaven are in third place, four points behind Toronto, who have a two-point advantage over second-placed Barrow Raiders, who this Sunday host Workington Town.

While Toronto thumped Newcastle Thunder 50-0 last time out, Whitehaven, whose Super 8s form has been a little patchy, registered a solid 36-4 win over Keighley Cougars.

The Wolfpack were 24-10 winners at Whitehaven in match two of the league campaign, but it’s worth remembering that player-coach Carl Forster’s side have suffered only three defeats in their 19 outings.

At 25, 17 years younger than Rowley, former St Helens and Salford Red Devils forward Forster is the youngest head coach in professional Rugby League.

But the man who got the job last September following Whitehaven’s relegation to League 1, has already impressed sufficiently to earn a new two-year contract at the Recreation Ground.

WHITEHAVEN

It might seem hard to believe now, but this town of 24,000 people on the Cumbrian coast in the North-West of England was once the country’s second busiest port – after London!

And back in 1778, it was also the scene of what most historians consider to be the last invasion of England, as John Paul Jones led a failed naval raid during the American War of Independence.

As locally-sourced coal left the harbour, cotton, coffee, cocoa, sugar and tobacco all arrived as ships plied their trade between Whitehaven and America and the West Indies during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The town, with its Georgian architecture, had been developed in the 17th century by the Lowther family, first Sir Christopher, a leading merchant, then his son, Sir John, who laid out a spacious rectangular grid of streets.

Whitehaven might have survived American naval commander Jones’ attempts at destruction in 1778, but it eventually suffered as a port because of its distance from England’s main canal and railway network.

While Whitehaven’s fortunes as a port waned as Liverpool and Bristol grew, it remained a major mining area into the 20th century, and was also a noted producer of detergents.

These days, the Sellafield nuclear complex is the major industry, while Whitehaven is also an emerging tourist centre thanks to its rejuvenated harbour area.

WHITEHAVEN RL CLUB

Formed from the town’s Miners’ Welfare team and based at the Recreation Ground, which is still the cub’s home, Whitehaven joined the Rugby Football League in 1948 and beat Hull FC in front of 9,000 in their first match.

It took time to develop the side, but the arrival of a number of Australian players helped bring better fortunes, and Whitehaven reached the Challenge Cup semi-finals in 1956-57 and finished a best-ever sixth in the league in 1959-60.

The record attendance at the Recreation Ground was also set in 1959-60, when 18,650 squeezed in to see the Challenge Cup quarter-final defeat by eventual winners Wakefield Trinity.

In 1969-70, Whitehaven were competitive against the game’s leading teams, beating Wigan and St Helens, and they even topped the league for a spell.

Meanwhile in the 1980s, the club produced Great Britain internationals in scrum half Arnold ‘Boxer’ Walker and centre Vince Gribbin.

In more recent years, Whitehaven have come through a number of financial crises and failed attempts to merge the club with local rivals Workington Town and Barrow Raiders, both of them other League 1 rivals of the Wolfpack this season.

And in 2004, Whitehaven came agonisingly close to promotion to Super League as they took Leigh Centurions to extra time in the Championship Grand Final. The year after, they lost out to Castleford Tigers in the Grand Final

KEY BATTLES

Toronto’s forwards could be in for a tough battle – because Whitehaven, ably led by boss Forster, pack a punch in the pack.

Their strength through the middle has been behind a good number of the 15 league wins posted by the Cumbrian side as they bid for an immediate return to the Championship.

Papua New Guinea international Dion Aiye, who can charge strongly but also produce some nifty footwork, will take some looking after by the Wolfpack.

So too will halfback Paul Crook, the former Rochdale Hornets skipper who has an effective short kicking game and has totted up 163 points this season, and long-serving centre Scott McAvoy.

Whitehaven have another talented Papua New Guinean in centre Jessie Joe Parker, the one-time Featherstone Rovers player who has been at the club for five years.

Wolfpack skipper Craig Hall is set to pass the 400-point barrier. He goes into the game with 396 (including 24 tries) to his credit, while Liam Kay has 23 tries, Jonny Pownall 20 and Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e 17.

After a blank weekend because of the Challenge Cup final, both sides should be refreshed and raring to go in front of another bumper Lamport crowd.