Toronto Wolfpack advance to promotion showdown with semifinal win over Toulouse

TORONTO — The Toronto Wolfpack are on the verge of Super League promotion for the second year in a row after a 40-24 playoff semifinal win Sunday over Toulouse Olympique.

Thanks to its 22nd straight victory, the transatlantic rugby league team has some two weeks to recover and prepare ahead of the Oct. 5 Grand Final showdown in Toronto. Toulouse, meanwhile, has to fly some 6,200 kilometres home for a preliminary final next weekend in France against Featherstone Rovers, with the winner facing the long flight back for the so-called Million Pound Game.

While Toronto was a comfortable winner Sunday — Toulouse scored two converted tries in the 74th and 76th minutes to reduce the winning margin — Wolfpack coach Brian McDermott says his players can use the time off ahead of the big game.

"Listen, Jon Wilkin's bicep's ripped off his arm and is just being held on by masking tape. (Bodene) Thompson's knee's all over the place. (Anthony) Mullally's Achilles (tendon). I could go through a list of people," he said post-game as the Beastie Boys roared over the PA system.

"They all should go to hospital now and have some operation putting themselves back together. It's such an arduous warrior-like sport, ours is. We started this (with pre-season) back in November. And the collisions and the heavy hits start then. So they're due a rest, these men."

Australian-born Samoan international Ricky Leutele scored three tries Sunday to help the Wolfpack dispatch Toulouse, the only team to beat Toronto this season. The French side rallied from a 10-point deficit at halftime March 9 by reeling off 40 unanswered points for a 46-16 home win.

Toronto (26-1-0) has not lost since, beating Toulouse three times in the process.

"We really wanted to turn up today and make a statement that we're not here to make up the numbers," said Leutele. "We really want to stamp our authority. I thought we really did that."

McDermott, however, thought Toulouse conceded a couple of soft tries.

"You've got to be careful that you don't get carried away with the 40 (points) ... Take those (soft) tries away, which in the Grand Final you're probably not scoring, then that's a very close scoreline," he said.

A stiff defence and better-stocked offence carried the day for the Wolfpack before a season-high crowd of 9,325 at Lamport Stadium.

Joe Mellor contributed two tries and Josh McCrone, Liam Kay and Chase Stanley added singles for Toronto on a toasty 27-degree Celsius afternoon. Gareth O'Brien kicked four conversions.

Toulouse got three tries from Mark Kheirallah and one from William Barthau. Kheirallah kicked four conversions.

Leutele, a robust centre who won an NRL championship Down Under with the Cronulla Sharks, set up the opening try by Mellor with a line break. He scored himself in the 16th, 28th and 67th minutes. He got his hat trick in style, running through three Toulouse tacklers to up his season tally to 18 tries.

Stanley's score came despite a whirlwind two weeks that saw him fly home to Australia after his father passed away.

Toronto also topped the Championship standings last season but fell short at the final promotion hurdle, losing 4-2 to London Broncos in October 2018 under a different playoff format. London went up but its Super League tenure lasted just one season with relegation already confirmed.

And while the Championship Grand Final winner is slated to move into the Super League, Toronto will still have some hoops to jump through apparently. Super League chief executive Robert Elstone has said the top tier needs assurances from Toronto that the transatlantic team can meet minimum standards.

The top five teams in the second-tier Championship advanced to the promotion playoffs. Toronto received a first-round playoff bye by virtue of topping the regular-season standings.

Featherstone, which finished fifth during the regular season, ran in five tries Saturday to beat No. 3 York City Knights 30-4. It had previously dispatched No. 4 Leigh Centurions.

Toulouse, like Toronto, is a fully professional full-time side that has made the Super League its goal since leaving French league play.

The French side had won its last eight games and had not lost since July 6, when it was beaten 26-24 by Bradford. Toulouse thumped York City Knights 44-6 last weekend in the opening round of playoffs.

NOTES: Toronto raised its all-time record against Toulouse to 6-1-0 ... Wolfpack winger Matty Russell marked his 150th career appearance.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2019.

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