Whitehaven 10 Toronto Wolfpack 24

Whitehaven showed that the hot favourites for the League One title might not have it completely their own way as the season unfolds.

A gritty effort from Carl Forster and his team saw the Cumbrians slug it out with the Canadian side in the thick Recreation Ground mud.

Whitehaven had the pleasure of scoring the first two tries against the Wolfpack in the competition, and over the second half, came out with much credit from a 10-10 scoreline.

The visitors had been leading 8-0 just before half-time but, in the last action of the half, scored their second try to give Forster a different team talk during the interval.

The heavy going made it the forward battle that the Whitehaven coach had predicted beforehand, and was something of a leveller as the Wolfpack were unable to fully exploit the pace in their back division.

Even so, the full-time Toronto professionals were expected to come through strongly and dictate the final quarter against the part-timers of Whitehaven, who would have been shot at by that stage.

But it didn’t pan out like that and, if anything, it was Toronto who showed more signs of weariness in the closing stages and the final try of the game was scored by the hosts.

Whitehaven had heroes all around the park and, having got the odds-on title favourites out of the way early doors, can look forward to consolidating their own position in the table.

Clearly, there’s enough class in the Wolfpack squad for them to go on and win the title to take a step up to the Championship, and on a drier, firmer pitch they might have run away with it.

But in an old-fashioned rugby league game, an arm-wrestle in the mud and sluther, Whitehaven gave them plenty to think about. They certainly weren’t prepared to lie down for them and kept going right through to the final hooter.

The first quarter had gone according to plan with Whitehaven completing their sets and tackling enthusiastically and effectively. The Wolfpack, strong and determined in defence themselves, were also the more dangerous with ball in hand.

The opening try came on 20 minutes when captain Craig Hall powered over in the corner and added the conversion from the touchline.

A Hall penalty in front of the sticks on 35 minutes extended the lead and, if Whitehaven could have gone in at half-time to regroup with that sort of deficit, the second half might have been even more interesting.

But almost on the hooter, Toronto got away with a forward pass in a build-up down the left, initiated by their best player Bob Beswick and finished off by lively winger Liam Kay. Hall added the conversion and at 14-0 Whitehaven’s chins were lower than they deserved to be.

Clearly, the right words were said at the break because on the restart Whitehaven forced three sets right on the Toronto line but just lacked the knowhow to get over.

When the Canadians eventually broke out they built their own pressure and, on 55 minutes, Beswick got over from close range for an unconverted try.

Much has been made of the prediction on how many teams the Wolfpack will beat to nil, well Whitehaven won’t be on the list.

On 61 minutes, a clever reverse kick for the line from Paul Crook wrong-footed the Toronto defence and there was Elliot Miller diving in to get the touchdown.

Unfortunately, Crook spooned his conversion attempt out of the mud, only to see it come back off the post.

Toronto responded with their fourth try on 67 minutes when they were awarded a scrum 10 yards from the Whitehaven line.

They moved the ball left, couldn’t get through but, when it went to the right, there was space out wide for Jonny Pownall to go over. Hall converted.

But there was still time for more Whitehaven celebrations.

In the 79th minute, Crook kicked for the corner where Dave Thompson hacked back into the middle, where Chris Taylor was waiting to pounce and touchdown. This time, Crook nailed the conversion.

Whitehaven: Miller, Thompson, Taylor, Parker, Burns, Crook, Roper, Shackley, Newton, Holland, Holliday, McAvoy, Olstrum. Sub (all used) Riley, Forster, Foster, Tilley.

Tries: Miller (61), Taylor (79). Goals: Crook (1/2).

Toronto Wolfpack: Laulu-Togage, Pownall, Hall, Worthington, Kay, Wallace, Jacks, Sidlow, Beswick, Emmitt, Dixon, Laithwaite, Bussey. Subs (all used) Wheeler, Crossley, Whiting, Everett.

Tries: Hall (20), Kay (39), Beswick (55), Pownall (67). Goals: Hall (4/5)

Penalties: 12-8

Half-time: 0-14

Referee: Liam Moore

Crowd: 643

Star man: Elliott Miller