The Toronto Wolfpack ran its winning streak to 15 games atop the second-tier Betfred Championship on Saturday, hanging on for a hard-fought 22-18 rugby league victory over the Featherstone Rovers.
Down 14-0 at the break, Featherstone refused to go away and made it interesting with three tries in a chippy second half before 7,819 at Lamport Stadium.
Toronto (20-1-0) has not lost since March 6, when it dropped a 46-16 decision at Toulouse Olympique. It has outscored the opposition 597-208 since, including two wins over Toulouse.
The transatlantic team cut down on the handling errors after two ugly wins over Halifax RLFC and Batley Bulldogs and continued to show off its defence against a resilient Featherstone.
Featherstone (13-8-0) came into the game having won two straight — and eight of nine since losing 23-14 at home to Toronto on April 22. That was the last time Toronto had won by less than 10 points.
For the second week in a row, the game was played in torrid temperatures. It was 27 C, said to feel like 33 C by the early afternoon kickoff. The contest was played against the road of engines from the nearby Honda Indy race track.
Gareth O’Brien, Chase Stanley, Ricky Leutele and Josh McCrone scored tries for Toronto. O’Brien added two conversions and a penalty.
Jack Ormondroyd, Josh Walters and Connor Jones scored tries for Featherstone. Will Dagger booted three conversions.
Toronto forward Darcy Lussick was sent to the sin-bin in the 16th minute after punching former Wolfpack player Jack Bussey in the head after a collision. The Australian took objection to Bussey shoving him away and swung at him, connecting flush several times before being swallowed up in a dog pile of players.
Featherstone was unable to take advantage of the 10-minute numerical advantage and Bussey’s afternoon ended early after failing a concussion test, according to Sky TV.
There was more bad blood in the 64th minute after O’Brien was laid out with a Joshua Hardcastle shoulder to the chin as he passed the ball during a Toronto attack. O’Brien, one of the smallest players on the pitch, was on his back for a while before being helped up to leave the field.
Featherstone was penalized on the play and the incident was put on report. McCrone scored one minute later to increase the Toronto lead to 22-12.
Jones cut the lead to 22-18 with a converted try in the 72nd minute after a fine show-and-go by Wellington Albert opened the way to the try-line.
The Wolfpack applied pressure early in the game, forcing a Featherstone goal-line dropout at the end of their first set. O’Brien then sliced through the visitors’ defence for the opening try in the second minute.
Featherstone had two early cracks at the Toronto goal-line but the Wolfpack defence held firm.
O’Brien’s short-range penalty increased the lead to 8-0 after 22 minutes.
A handling error by Nick Rawsthorne gave Featherstone the ball two metres from the Toronto goal-line at the 30-minute mark, only to see Jones lose the ball as he tried to touch it down for the try at the end of the set.
Lussick, in the thick of the action all afternoon, needed treatment later in the half after taking a boot to the head.
Stanley went over in the 36th minute for a converted try after Toronto forced another goal-line dropout.
Featherstone put Toronto under the cosh early in the second half with Ormondroyd, refusing to go down in the tackle, crashing over in the 43rd minute.
The Wolfpack answered with Leutele crossing in the corner in the 48th minute. But Featherstone, taking advantage of good field position after a Toronto penalty, cut the Wolfpack lead to 18-12 on Walters’ converted try.
Toronto improved its career record against Featherstone to 3-1-0 career record with the loss — a 30-12 defeat last July — one of its few setbacks at Lamport Stadium.
Toronto has six regular-season games left — including three top-six opponents in York City, Bradford and Leigh plus Widnes, which would be top six if not for a points deduction for financial reasons.
The third-year Wolfpack won the third-tier League One in their inaugural 2017 season and topped the Betfred Championship last year. But they fell just short in their promotion bid, losing 4-2 to the London Broncos in the Million Pound Game last October.
The road to securing a spot in the top division is simpler this season but only one team will make the move to Super League. Should Toronto finish first in the regular season, two playoff wins could earn promotion.
Wolfpack players Adam Sidlow, Blake Wallace and Matty Russell were missing from the game due to injuries.
Featherstone was without the injured Cameron King and Dane Chisholm. Ben Reynolds did not travel because his partner is expecting a baby.