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Like an expectant father, Eric Perez is nervous but happy ahead of the Toronto Wolfpack’s promotion showdown with London Broncos on Sunday.

“Who would have thought that a guy who was just flipping the television on in 2010 in Birmingham [England] and watching a game – I think it was Leeds versus Bradford – and thinking ‘Why isn’t this in Canada? How can I make it?'"

Plans to bring the sport of rugby league – and a club – to Canada were subsequently hatched by Perez on a fish-and-chips wrapper. But bringing his vision for a transatlantic team in a sport foreign to North America to life wasn’t easy.

“In 2010, 11, 12, I would say rugby league and people would say ‘Is it a rugby league? Is it a league that plays rugby?’ Now people know what rugby league is. … Why I feel so proud is I feel like I’ve infused something different. I’ve added a patch onto the cultural tapestry that is Canada.”

As the chief executive, Perez was the front-office face of the franchise when its bold blueprint was announced in 2016.

A bundle of energy with the conviction of a preacher, Perez sometimes sat in on post-match news conferences for the team’s inaugural season in 2017 when the Wolfpack won promotion out of the third-tier League 1. But this season he has stayed largely out of sight.

“It was always the plan that after the first year I would step away for the CEO role into more of a director role and pursue further expansion,” he explained. “The Wolfpack can’t stand alone. … One team can never be enough in North America.”

“I’m on that mission now,” he added.

David Argyle, a Toronto-based Australian entrepreneur who heads up the Wolfpack ownership group, has begun to step out of the shadows and take a more prominent public role with the team.

Perez’s hope is to serve as president and CEO of an expansion franchise while keeping his minority interest in the Wolfpack.

On Sunday, Perez can see the Wolfpack join the sport’s elite with a win in the Million Pound Game. The winner enters the top-flight – joining 10 English and one French team – while the loser returns to the second-tier Betfred Championship.

“I’m super-proud of the job everyone’s done – the coaching staff to the players to the backroom staff,” he said in an interview. “It just looks how I hoped it would look. … I feel great about the whole thing, to be honest with you.

“And I think Sunday will be the biggest day in Canadian rugby league history. Definitely rugby league but I’m going to go farther and say rugby history. That’s Sunday.”

The Wolfpack have shown they can rise to the occasion, building a 50-7-2 record in competitive play.

While Perez works on expansion, he continues as a co-owner and director of the Wolfpack, offering help as needed behind the scenes. His work often takes him to England so he has only seen one game in person at Lamport Stadium this year.

He says nerves might make him watch Sunday’s game from home. But he also says he might make an appearance.

A graduate of York University, where the Toronto native earned a degree in business and society, he worked in university advertising with a few friends. That took him to England, where he looked to start up a similar venture.

Upon returning to Canada, he formed the Canada Rugby League Association and started talking up the sport. It was an uphill battle, with Perez recalling times when paying the rent was hard.

He convinced IMG, which had the rights to Super League, that a highlights show would be good for the sport in Canada. Then he persuaded Sportsnet to air the show, which also featured his fledgling domestic efforts.

In 2012, his efforts with the sport in Canada won him an invitation to a Rugby Football League (RFL) dinner in London where he pitched the idea of a team in Toronto. And he kept talking until he won people over. After more than year of due diligence by the RFL, the Wolfpack plan was accepted.

Ownership had to come up with a franchise fee in excess of $400,000 to seal the deal, as well as some innovative ways – such as a sponsorship deal with Air Transat – to get the team and its opponents across the Atlantic.

Perez, flanked by head coach Paul Rowley, announced formation of the franchise in April, 2016 to a largely dubious audience that he has managed to prove wrong.

“Imagine what it took to get to that press conference – the amount of doubt and nay saying,” he said.

Perez pays tribute to the RFL and executives Nigel Wood and Ralph Rimmer for “following him down this rabbit hole when they could easily have not.

“They could have said. '‘Mate, this isn’t for us. That’s too drastic.’ They could easily have done that and moved on with their day. But for some reason they stuck with me on it and they’re just as much to be credited for the success of this as I am.”

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