TORONTO — Taking on rugby league’s first transatlantic team involves more than boarding a plane to Toronto.
Barrow Raiders coach Paul Crarey has spent this week monitoring medical reports and visa applications to see which of his players are healthy enough — and legally approved — for the 5,500-kilometre trip to play the Wolfpack on Saturday in a top-of-the-table showdown.
“I don’t know what sort of team we can bring over now,” Crarey said wearily of his 18-man travelling squad.
Then there’s the issue of their day jobs. In the semi-pro world of the Kingstone Press League 1, rugby is not a full-time job unless you play for the Wolfpack.
Crarey, for one, is a self-employed roofing contractor so will be losing money coming to Canada.
When it comes to rugby, some of his players only get paid if they play. And the pay is less for a loss — 50 pounds ($88.25) a game less taxes, which works out to about 30 pounds ($53).
A free trip to Canada helps.
“It’s a big ask for these fellows as part-time players to do it,” said Crarey. “But it’s an experience for them and everybody’s wanting to get over and sample more Canada than the game, I think.”
“It’s an experience for our players whatever side we bring over,” he added.
The logistics, new to everyone, have put something of a damper for Crarey on the eagerly awaited showdown between the two 7-0-0 teams. Toronto has outscored its opposition 412-71 in league play while Barrow has a 352-88 edge.
The Wolfpack have won nine of 10 matches, with the lone blemish a 29-22 loss to Super League’s Salford in the fifth round of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup.
The Raiders had won 13 straight prior to losing Sunday in sixth round of cup play. The last third-tier team in the knockout competition, Barrow exited after a 72-10 thumping by the Leeds Rhinos, who stand fourth in the Super League — two divisions and 22 places above the Raiders.
The schedule has not helped Barrow given that the visit to Toronto falls between the high-profile Leeds match and the May 27 League 1 Cup final against the North Wales Crusaders.
The Wolfpack haven’t had it easy, either.
After battering Oxford 62-12 in their May 6 home opener, they played in Newcastle on May 12 before returning home to face Barrow.
Barrrow’s Andy Litherland and James Duerden are missing out on the Toronto trip through injury. Captain Ollie Wilkes sat out the Leeds game due to a cortisone injection in his knee but should be ready for the weekend.
Crarey and his players, on the eve of a 5 a.m. departure Thursday, were still sorting out visa issues.
“Lads who had trouble in the past are struggling to get their visas,” he said Wednesday. “So at the moment it’s still up in the air what players we can bring over even at this stage.”
Some of his players have been trying to get court documents from six years ago.
“The lads are having to sort it out themselves rather than the (sport’s) governing body which is pretty poor, I think,” said Crarey.
“We didn’t know it was going to be like this,” he added. “It’s unknown to us because we don’t have to do it when we play in England. It’s a massive hurdle and the talk hasn’t about the game, really, it’s been talk about visas and accommodation.”
The Wolfpack are paying for visiting teams’ flights and housing in Toronto. Oxford RLFC, the first visiting team, was originally housed in residences at York University but was moved after complaints.
“We’ll see what that’s like when we get there,” said Crarey.
He said Oxford coach Tim Rumford had told him the York accommodation on offer “wasn’t suitable for a professional rugby team.”
Wolfpack CEO Eric Perez said the York rooms have since been upgraded.
Oxford was moved to the George Brown College residence — formerly the Pan Am Games athletes village — where the Wolfpack stay when in town.
Toronto experienced its own visa red tape with veterans Fuifui Moimoi and Ryan Bailey unable to make it over for the home opener.
Coach Paul Rowley will be without prop Jake Emmitt and high-scoring wing Liam Kay (both suspended) on Saturday.