|Million Pound Game|
|Toronto Wolfpack (0) 2|
|London Broncos (2) 4|
|Goals: Sammut 2|
London Broncos head coach Danny Ward praised his side’s “unbelievable achievement” after they booked the final Super League spot for next season by beating favourites Toronto Wolfpack in the Million Pound Game.
Broncos will return to the top flight for the first time since relegation in 2014 after holding off Wolfpack in a cagey encounter in Canada.
Just three goals were exchanged by the two sides as stubborn defence and sloppy mistakes made for a nervy game.
Ward said he had to convince the Broncos players that promotion to Super League was a realistic target back in November.
“They have been a credit to London rugby league since day one when we looked around on the first day of pre-season at a room full of kids,” he said.
“We lost a lot of experience and we’ve not replaced anyone. Me and Langers [assistant Jamie Langley] had to drill into them that we were going to do something special this year and they took some convincing.
“But they’ve not stopped since, they’ve been outstanding.”
Jarrod Sammut slotted a penalty in either half to lead London to a narrow win.
Gareth O’Brien registered Wolfpack’s only points, but he missed a second attempt off the tee from distance which would have brought the scores level at 4-4 in the closing stages.
Former Leeds and London forward Ward was promoted from the role of assistant coach when Andrew Henderson left the club at the end of last season to join Warrington, and the Londoners were outsiders for promotion.
But Ward was named Championship coach of the year after guiding them to a second-place finish – and they then toppled favourites Toronto at the Lamport Stadium.
“They’ve put me through it this year and I’m glad it’s done now. I can sit back, have a nice glass of scotch and enjoy it,” he said.
“The next job is to get these blokes on a plane back to London.”
Wolfpack tamed in home den
Broncos will replace relegated Widnes Vikings in Super League in 2019 while Toronto will remain in the Championship for a second year after being denied automatic promotion in the regular season on points difference by Hull KR.
The Canadian club were looking to seal back-to-back promotions after their rise from League One last term, and they were only beaten twice in the Championship season.
“We congratulate London on their victory and wish them the best of luck in Super League,” said head coach Paul Rowley.
“We didn’t play well, we didn’t get any territory and we didn’t put any pressure on them.
“That’s sport. Unfortunately this is a bitter pill to swallow but we’ll go again.”
Victory for Broncos in the promotion play-off was sweet revenge after they had lost on their two previous visits to Toronto earlier in the season.
In a nervous atmosphere, with the prize of £1m in additional funding on the line from Super League for the winners, two of the Championship’s most free-scoring sides were unable to produce a try.
It was not for lack of effort and endeavour though, as Toronto had four tries ruled out either for infringements or last-ditch Broncos defence holding the ball up over the line.
A bruising encounter at times also saw Toronto hooker Andy Ackers sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on his opposite number Eloi Pelissier.
Their loose forward Bob Beswick was also carried off on a stretcher after taking a blow to the head attempting to make a tackle just before the hooter sounded.
Where next for Toronto?
All the signs before the Million Pound Game pointed to Toronto Wolfpack taking the final Super League spot and creating a transatlantic frontier for the 13-man code’s top flight.
Backed by Australian mining tycoon David Argyle, who has stated he has a five-year plan to take the team into Super League, this is their first setback.
Wolfpack finished eight points clear of Broncos in the regular season and impressive victories in the Qualifiers against the likes of Leeds ensured they would be at home for this match.
International experience already abounds in their squad and more big names in the game are reportedly bound for Ontario next season.
Argyle will hope many of the 9,266 crowd who flocked to the city’s Lamport Stadium on Canada’s Thanksgiving Day will be back for Wolfpack’s second tilt at Super League promotion next season.
Toronto Wolfpack: O’Brien, Caton-Brown, Rawsthorne, Wheeler, Russell, McCrone, Wallace, Lussick, Beswick, Sims, Dixon, Whiting, Emmitt.
Replacements: Buchanan, Ackers, Sidlow, Higson.
Sin bin: Ackers (32)
London Broncos: Walker, Williams, Kear, Hellewell, Dixon, Pitts, Sammut, Evans, Pelissier, Ioane, Gee, Lovell, Hindmarsh.
Replacements: Spencer, Battye, Butler, Davies.
Referee: Chris Kendall (RFL)