Canada Sports News

O’Brien kicks late drop goal to give Wolfpack narrow win over Toulouse

SportsNets - Sat, 09/15/2018 - 13:25

TORONTO — Gareth O’Brien’s drop goal in the 77th minute lifted the Toronto Wolfpack to a 13-12 win over Toulouse Olympique in a tense rugby league playoff game Saturday.

It was a physical contest played before 7,923 under a hot early afternoon sun at Lamport Stadium, with both teams putting on second-half surges.

Tied 8-8 at the break, Toronto (3-2-0) turned up the heat in the second half and spent large chunks of time in the visitors’ half. Toulouse (2-3-0) defended resolutely but the Wolfpack regained the lead five minutes into the second half with a Chase Stanley try.

Down 12-8, Toulouse pulled even on a Stan Robin try in the 71st minute. But William Barthau missed the conversion, setting the stage for O’Brien’s dramatic boot.

O’Brien is no stranger to big kicks, having made the drop goal that kept Salford in the Super League in 2016. He had missed three conversion attempts from the sidelines Saturday.

Mason Caton-Brown and Nick Rawsthorne also scored tries for Toronto.

Paul Marcon also scored a try for Toulouse, who had a player sin-binned in the first half. Mark Kheirallah kicked two penalties for the visitors.

It was another first for the transatlantic Wolfpack as La Marseillaise rang out before the game for the first visit to Lamport Stadium by a French team. Toronto won both previous meetings this season — 24-22 on April 2 and 43-30 on May 19.

It was a tight opening with neither team able to breach the other’s defence.

Toulouse centre Bastien Ader got up from a 12th-minute tackle by Jack Bussey complaining of a bite to the ear. Midway through the second half, it was Bussey’s turn to allege he had been bitten.

A penalty gave Toulouse a 2-0 lead in the 17th minute. But Toronto went ahead 4-2 in the 20th after Caton-Brown dove over in the corner. A TV replay showed the Wolfpack winger lost control of the ball before touching it down but, with no video replay available to referee Tom Grant, the try was awarded.

Caton-Brown saved a try at the other end when he intercepted a Johnathon Ford pass with an unmarked Toulouse player awaiting the ball.

A minute after Robin was sin-binned for a professional foul (delay of game) and dissent, Rawsthorne went over in the corner in the 28th minute for an 8-2 lead. A Kheirallah penalty cut the deficit to 8-4 in the 33rd.

Toulouse lost veteran New Zealand forward Sam Rapira late in the half after he crashed into a teammate making a tackle. The visitors, however, had the last laugh of the half, tying it up at 8-8 when Marcon touched down his own kick in the corner in the 38th minute.

Toronto pulled ahead 12-8 in the 45th minute when Toulouse winger Chris Centrone was unable to handle a Josh McCrone kick high in the sun and Stanley touched the ball down in the corner.

It was 26 degrees Celsius at kickoff — 12:30 p.m. local time. The "sweltering heat," as Toulouse observed on its Twitter feed, was said to feel like 33 degrees. It was about the same temperature in Toulouse, however.

The Wolfpack, who won their first 19 games in Toronto, came into Saturday’s contest having lost two of the last three at Lamport — against Featherstone in the regular-season finale and Hull Kingston Rovers in the Super 8s Qualifiers.

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

After a round-robin, the top three secure Super League status while No. 4 plays No. 5 in the so-called "Million Pound Game" to see who joins them.

Teams voted this week to scrap the Super 8s and return to one-up, one-down promotion and relegation next year.

Toronto, which beat London and Halifax and lost to Hull KR and Salford, hosts Widnes next weekend before finishing at Leeds.

In other Saturday action, Widnes (1-4-0) ended a 17-match losing streak with a 26-12 win over Halifax (0-5-0). Hull KR hosted London in the day’s other game.

Maple Leafs confident in defence despite doubters

SportsNets - Sat, 09/15/2018 - 13:09

NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. — In the hours after his stunning move to the Toronto Maple Leafs, an unprompted John Tavares went out of his way to praise the team’s most maligned group — its defencemen.

Part of a response to a general question about style of play, the brief exchange showed that while the meticulous star centre was new to town, he was also keenly aware of the perception surrounding what has been viewed from the outside as the franchise’s weak link.

"I know the defence has been talked about here over the (last) little while," Tavares told a packed room of reporters on July 1. "But I remember how tough they were to play against."

Tough or not, those concerns remain.

Vaulted among the favourites to hoist the Stanley Cup after Tavares left the New York Islanders in free agency to join Auston Matthews and Toronto’s elite forward group that nicely complements Frederick Andersen’s steady play in goal, the Leafs still lack a true No. 1 defenceman.

The top four of Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev remain from last year, while the bruising Roman Polak left in free agency, leaving Travis Dermott and a host of youngsters to vie for rest of the roster spots at training camp.

"We have a lot of confidence in ourselves," Rielly said. "You hear about the doubts (with) the blue line … you take that personally and you use it as motivation.

"We think we can get better and we think we can be elite. There’s obviously room to improve and things we can get better at, but we have confidence in the personnel."

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Rielly and Gardiner, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, are each coming off career-high 52-point seasons — only two other teams had defence duos record 50-plus points. But in a perfect world, they would play second and third fiddle to an Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman or Drew Doughty.

Those players, unfortunately for the Leafs, don’t grow on trees.

"I’ve been consistent in saying I do like our defence," said first-year Toronto general manager Kyle Dubas. "When people ask about it, I think they’re asking, ‘Can you go out and land one of these high-end, top-defenceman-in-the-league-type people.’ I think that underestimates what Morgan and Jake have done.

"With Zaitsev healthy, with Travis Dermott continuing to develop, with Ron Hainsey there to solidify things, and then we’ve got a real good group of younger people coming up behind them … I’m excited."

That doesn’t mean the Leafs aren’t continuing to search for improvements.

Toronto has taken defencemen in the first round of the last two drafts — Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin — while Connor Carrick, Justin Holl, newly-signed former KHLer Igor Ozhiganov, Martin Marincin, Andreas Borgman and Calle Rosen are in the mix for spots six through seven or eight with the Leafs coming out of camp.

Carrick and Holl both would need to clear waivers to be sent down to the Toronto Marlies of the AHL.

"I’ve always considered it a privilege to compete at this level," Carrick said of trying to crack the lineup. "It will be a great challenge."

"There’s a lot of great players here and a lot of great defencemen," Holl added. "It’s a very competitive environment."

Head coach Mike Babcock said apart from the veteran Hainsey, the defence corps has plenty of room to grow. Toronto had a respectable team goals-against average of 2.88 last season, but gave up the fourth-most shots in the league at 33.9 and was in the middle of the pack in even-strength shot attempts for at 49.81 per cent.

"I think the group is real good," Babcock said. "A lot better than a lot of people think."

Hainsey, meanwhile, said team defence will be a focus in camp, especially in the neutral zone before opponents have a chance to set up as Toronto looks to push into the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004 after back-to-back early exits.

"The best way to defend these days is to keep the other team out of your zone with possession of the puck," said the 37-year-old Hainsey. "There’s so much skill among forwards around the league that if they get into your zone with possession, they’re able to make plays no matter who they are."

Dubas, who took over as GM for Lou Lamoriello in the spring, is confident Toronto can get by with the type of star-less blue line Babcock will once again ice on opening night.

"A number of teams in the league that have done it without those type of players in the last number of years," said Dubas, 32. "We have some history recently that shows (a) team can have ultimate success with that style of defence group."

Set to enter his sixth season, the 24-year-old Rielly said the faith management has shown is not lost on the current group.

"We take it as a compliment from Kyle and the coaching staff for keeping us together," he said. "It’s up to us to improve and work hard to be the best we can be."

With the strengths the Leafs have elsewhere, that might end up being good enough.

Aaron Rodgers returns to Packers practice after injuring knee

SportsNets - Sat, 09/15/2018 - 12:43

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has taken part in practice for the first time this week after being held out with a left knee injury.

Rodgers was a participant in practice on Saturday after being held out on Wednesday and Thursday to focus on rehab ahead of this weekend’s game against the Minnesota Vikings.

Fridays are a rest and recovery day. The Packers usually hold a light practice on Saturdays.

Rodgers said he sprained his knee in the second quarter of last week’s season opener over the Chicago Bears. He left the field on a cart but returned in the second half to throw three touchdown passes to help rally the Packers to a 24-23 victory.

Rodgers is listed as questionable on the injury report. Coach Mike McCarthy has said the two-time MVP quarterback would be evaluated on a daily basis.

Matthews impressed by longevity of Marleau’s career

SportsNets - Sat, 09/15/2018 - 12:06

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Mayweather says he’s coming out of retirement for Pacquiao rematch

SportsNets - Sat, 09/15/2018 - 11:11

LAS VEGAS — Floyd Mayweather Jr. says he’s coming out of retirement again to fight Manny Pacquiao for a second time in December.

Mayweather posted a video on Instagram early Saturday that showed Pacquiao and him together, reportedly in Japan, jawing at each other over a possible second fight.

Whether the fight will actually happen remains to be seen. There are no promotional barriers between the two men, because Mayweather promotes himself and Pacquiao is a boxing free agent.

50-1 #NoExcuses pic.twitter.com/c5Q6khCDd9

— Manny Pacquiao (@mannypacquiao) September 15, 2018

Mayweather defeated Pacquiao in May 2015 in a massively hyped fight that was largely panned by most boxing fans. The bout delivered a record 4.6 million pay-per-view buys.

Representatives for the two fighters could not immediately be reached for comment.