Memories of a mud-bath on a rain-lashed hillside above Halifax have focused Toronto Wolfpack minds as they prepare to complete their improbable transatlantic journey from Siddal to Super League this weekend.
Three years ago the dregs of Storm Doris and the fortitude of one of the sport’s most renowned amateur clubs conspired to almost produce an epic rugby league Challenge Cup upset in Toronto’s first competitive match.
This summer’s arrival of former All Blacks superstar Sonny Bill Williams to bolster their Super League squad indicates the extent to which the Canadian club have stayed true to their original intention of causing a stir at the top of the sport.
But for the handful of players and officials who remain from the day they squelched away from Siddal with a mightily fortunate 14-8 win, it was a match than continues to encapsulate the resolve they would require along the way.
Prop Adam Sidlow, who came off the bench to score the decisive second-half try, told the PA news agency: “The wind was howling and the pitch was boggy – it was one of the toughest games I’ve played in a Toronto shirt.
“We were brought back down to earth a bit. We were supposed to be this team that was going to blow everyone away, and it was a bit of a tap on our shoulder to tell us, it’s not going to be easy as you think.”
Toronto subsequently swept aside all opponents in their opening League One season before their momentum was brought to a juddering, if temporary, halt by a shock defeat to London Broncos in the Million Pound Game the following year.
For former Bradford and Wigan coach Brian Noble, who has remained Wolfpack’s director of rugby since their inauguration, such tests have steeled the club for their biggest challenge – that of establishing themselves in the top-flight.
Noble told the PA news agency: “When we were knee-deep in mud at Siddal and we couldn’t differentiate between which team was which, did I think we’d be here now?
“At the back of my mind, I certainly thought it was possible.
“On many occasions since then we’ve had to come through similar Saturday afternoons. The supposedly smooth transition to Super League has clearly not been there, and it has been an adventure all the way.
“But that afternoon at Siddal, with mud leaking over the tops of my wellington boots, encapsulated the difficulty of the journey we would have to undertake to get where we are now.”
For all the headlines surrounding the arrival of Williams, Toronto’s first season in Super League is expected to be difficult, with recruitment and personnel issues restricting their ability to add to the squad that earned promotion at the second attempt last term.
Coach Brian McDermott has already railed against the distinctly non-north American concept of immediate relegation for the still-developing club, which he believes serves as an unfair obstacle to the sport’s own brave, expansionist policy.
Yet Noble believes that the additional year of preparation arising from the initial heartbreak of their home loss to the Broncos could serve the Wolfpack well.
“In hindsight it was a good thing – we treated it as a good thing, we were positive about it and it enabled us to understand the dynamics of the terrific division that is the Championship,” added Noble.
“I think we’d have competed in Super League had we gone up, but would we have been as ready as we are now?
“We had the facility to step back and look back at what went wrong. Our philosophy was to build a squad that can survive in the top division this year – we believe in that squad and we think we’re ready.”