Featherstone Rovers, the lowest-ranked of the five teams to make the Betfred Championship postseason, have beaten all-comers in the playoffs so far.
And they have done it the hard way – with three wins on the road.
The rugby league part-timers have defeated No. 4 Leigh Centurions (34-18), No. 3 York City Knights (30-4) and No. 2 Toulouse Olympique (36-12).
On Saturday they will look to topple the league-leading Toronto Wolfpack in the Million Pound Game at Lamport Stadium, with the winner securing promotion to the top-tier Super League.
While impressed by Featherstone’s play all season, Toronto coach Brian McDermott acknowledges he thought last weekend’s game in Toulouse “would be one journey too far.”
Like Toronto, Toulouse is a fully professional outfit and was the only team to down the Wolfpack this season. Plus the French side had beaten Featherstone 26-24 in the regular-season final. But Featherstone found a way in the playoffs.
“Credit to them ... they’ve certainly got an ability to defend tough periods,” McDermott said.
While Toronto beat Featherstone twice this season, both games were close. The Wolfpack won 23-14 at Featherstone on April 22 and 22-18 at Lamport Stadium on July 13.
McDermott calls them two of Toronto’s toughest outings this season.
“It’s an easy task for me to say to the players that you’ve got your work cut out. They’re a good team and they pose certain threats and they have an ability to beat us,” he said. “My team needs to believe that. They need to believe that to be the best. And I can confidently tell you that they honestly do believe that Featherstone are a good team and have the ability to beat us.”
Toronto went 26-1-0 during the regular season before defeating Toulouse 40-24 in semi-final play Sept. 22. That dropped Toulouse into the preliminary final against Featherstone, which finished fifth in the standings at 17-10-0 and claimed the last playoff sport by one point over Bradford Bulls.
The Yorkshire Post has played up a David versus Goliath confrontation, saying “those players that can secure time off work will be flying out to Canada on Thursday ready to try and topple the might of the big-spending full-time Wolfpack.”
“Almost three million people live in the Canadian city compared to barely 15,000 in the erstwhile mining town nestled between Wakefield and Pontefract.”
Toronto holds a 3-1-0 career edge over Featherstone. Still, Featherstone is one of just three teams to leave Lamport with a win.
Featherstone defeated the Wolfpack 30-12 in the 2018 regular-season finale, snapping Toronto’s 18-match winning streak in league play.
When it comes to playing at home, the Wolfpack’s motto is “Defend the Den.” It has worked with the team posting a career 33-3-0 record at home over the regular-season and playoffs. Toronto went 11-0 at home in 2017, 11-3-0 in 2018 and 11-0-0 in 2019.
The other home losses in 2018 came in the playoffs – to Hull Kingston Rovers and London Broncos in the Million Pound Game.
“The guys who were here last year, we’ve used that pain and that hurt from last year’s Million Pound Game to spur us on to this Grand Final,” said Wolfpack forward Ashton Sims, a 34-year-old Australian who plans to retire after Saturday’s showdown.
“It just feels like we’ve got a totally different playing group, a totally different mindset. That’s led by our coach, Brian McDermott. He’s just brought a real steel and a real resolve around our mindset.
“Look words are easy now. It’s got to be actions on Saturday. And we’re ready.”
It’s been a rapid rise for the Wolfpack since the transatlantic team entered the third-tier League 1 in 2017, winning promotion after a 15-0-0 regular season. Toronto topped the Championship last season with a 20-2-1 record but fell short at the last promotion hurdle, losing 4-2 to London.
Featherstone’s last brush this close with promotion was in 1998 when it lost 24-22 to Wakefield Trinity.
Toronto goes into Saturday’s showdown having won its past 22 games. Featherstone has won three straight and seven of its past nine since the July loss in Toronto.