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Despite distance between them, Toronto and Salford share rugby league ties


While Toronto is some 5,500 kilometres from Salford, there are plenty of connections when it comes to rugby league.

Former Salford players now wearing Toronto Wolfpack colours include Gareth O'Brien, Mason Caton-Brown, Andrew Dixon, Jake Emmitt, Olsi Krasniqi, Cory Paterson and Adam Sidlow, as well as assistant coach Simon Finnigan.

O'Brien is part of Salford lore.

His sudden-death drop-goal from 45-plus metres out in 2016 kept Salford in the top-flight Super League, capping a comeback that saw the Red Devils rally from an 18-10 deficit with two minutes remaining in the so-called "Million Pound Game." O'Brien's boot relegated Hull Kingston Rovers in the process.

And despite their transatlantic home, the Wolfpack won't have far to go Saturday. Their English training base is only about a dozen kilometres from Salford's AJ Bell Stadium.

When the two teams face off in suburban Manchester, it will be brother against brother. Toronto's Darcy Lussick, a statuesque six-foot-four 251-pounder, goes up against younger brother Joey, 5-10 and 194 pounds, in a battle of Australian beefcake.

What Toronto knows best is that unbeaten Salford (3-0-0) is on a roll in the Super 8s Qualifiers.

"The form tells us they are the best team in the competition," Finnigan said. "They've won all their games and they won a couple of them comfortably. It's certainly going to be our most difficult task to date."

Salford is coming of a 62-4 win over Halifax that saw the Red Devils run in 12 unanswered tries. Toronto (2-1-0) had a tougher time with Halifax, winning 14-0 in their playoff opener.

The Super 8s Qualifiers group the bottom four teams in the Super League (Leeds Rhinos, Hull Kingston Rovers, Salford and Widnes Vikings) with the top four sides in the second-tier Betfred Championship (Toronto, London Broncos, Toulouse Olympique and Halifax RLFC).

The teams play each other once with the top three finishers securing Super League status. No. 4 plays No. 5 in the "Million Pound Game" to see who joins them.

The Red Devils are the only unbeaten team in the Super 8s Qualifiers, having also beaten Widnes and Hull Kingston Rovers. Toronto stands third on point difference, one of four teams at 2-1-0, after defeating Halifax and London and losing to Hull KR.

While Toronto is only in its second year of existence, it has history with Salford.

Salford handed Toronto its first competitive defeat, a 29-22 loss in April 2017 in the fifth round of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup. Salford stood third in the Super League at the time.

Finnigan, for one, remembers his time at Salford fondly.

"I loved playing in Salford," he said of his days at The Willows Stadium, an "old-school rugby ground" built in 1901 and demolished in 2012. "The fans were right on top of you and they had a pretty hardcore following then.

"The two years I spent at that club were some of the best years I've had playing rugby ... I've only got good things to say about the Salford city club."

Toronto will be without the injured Liam Kay, Greg Worthington and Adam Higson. Cory Paterson, Ryan Brierley and Jack Bussey may be available if they pass fitness tests.

George Griffin and Lee Mossop return to the Salford lineup. Ben Nakubuwai is out with a shoulder injury.

There is another Wolfpack-related battle this weekend. Korbin (Brisbane Broncos) and Tariq Sims (St. George Illawarra Dragons), the brothers of Toronto forward Ashton Sims, meet Sunday in Brisbane in Australian NRL playoff action.

 

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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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