Toronto Wolfpack’s Championship League Leaders’ Shield win only ‘amplifies’ the pressure to gain promotion to Super League, says back-rower Jon Wilkin.
Unlike many traditional English sports such as football which work on first-past-the-post basis, rugby league’s big prizes are decided by play-offs.
While the Wolfpack will finish top of the table, it only gives them certain privileges in the knock-out stages.
“Toronto are the best side in the Championship,” Wilkin said.
He told the BBC Radio 5 Live Rugby League podcast: “That’s not debatable, but the shield builds a public pressure on us, when it gets to the Grand Final.”
Toronto’s record of 21 wins from 22 games this season highlights their dominance under Brian McDermott, previously the most successful coach in Leeds Rhinos history.
They have National Rugby League-quality players like Josh McCrone, Ricky Leutele – who won the Grand Final with Cronulla in Australia – and Darcey Lussick, as well as Super League veterans such as Wilkin, Gareth O’Brien and Andrew Dixon.
However, the only reward for Toronto is a later entry into the play-off system and a more favourable draw.
They will play the winner of a ‘2nd v 3rd’ game, and if successful will go into the final – but will still have to face the winner of a further game to secure promotion.
Toronto also dominated last season before their promotion hopes ended with a shock 4-2 home defeat by London Broncos in the end-of-season decider.
“I do a lot of reading about pressure, and the League Leaders’ Shield has become an amplifier of pressure for the game that really matters,” Wilkin added.
“Ultimately the consequences for us are that we have to get to the last game of the year and win.
“It’s great and we celebrate the moment it’s chances celebrate but the more I have come to understand it, it just builds pressure for the winners.
“As Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola said – pressure is a privilege that only few have.”
Toronto joined the English league system in 2017, and have finished top of the table three times in a row – including a League One triumph in their inaugural season.