After losing just two Championship games all season, Toronto head into this year's Middle 8s competition full of confidence. Backed by most of the Rugby League fraternity to earn promotion to the top flight at the first time of asking, the Canadian outfit are under a great deal of pressure to perform. In short, this pressure can go one of two ways: it either spurs that team on to glory, or it causes them to backfire spectacularly.

Most fans believe that Toronto will replace struggling Widnes in the Super League for 2019 and they would have good reason to feel this way too; with only three wins all season, the Vikings have endured a miserable season in 2018, and the signs do not look good for them heading into the Middle 8 Qualifiers.

But, the Wolfpack's promotion is not as clear-cut as some people think.

Widnes showed signs

In their last fixture before the split, Widnes hosted Castleford. Though the Vikings conceded 52, they scored 24 points with new signing Liam Finn appearing to pull strings. Not only does the capture of Finn enable fellow halfback Joe Mellor to play his own smart running game that helped Widnes escape the Qualifiers in 2017, but Finn also brings the vital experience of playing against top Championship sides that will be crucial in the upcoming weeks.

The other Super League sides - Leeds, Salford and Hull KR - will be far from pushovers either; Toronto host Widnes and Hull KR at home, but have to travel to Leeds and Salford.

Widnes at home should perhaps see Toronto register a win, but Hull KR have rallied in recent weeks, and Salford and Leeds are a different kettle of fish at their own grounds. Fail to get the point from any of these three fixtures and the Wolfpack will struggle to gain automatic promotion.

The Paul Rowley effect

It is seriously unlikely that the Wolfpack will have it all their own way in the playoffs as they did for most of the Championship season.

Their 66-10 hammering away at Warrington in the sixth round of the Challenge Cup demonstrated the scale of improvement needed if Toronto are going to challenge Super League sides - albeit worse teams than Warrington - at the end of the season.

Not only was the result dismal, but the way the Canadian outfit played the game left a stain on their character.

Andrew Dixon was red-carded just two minutes before half-time for punching while winger Liam Kay was given a yellow for a dangerous throw and captain Josh McCrone and prop Darcy Lussick sin-binned for dissent. The latter two, in particular, made a mockery of the Wolfpack's attempts to win over the general Rugby League public; rather than winning support, they quickly lost any they had gained.

Unsurprisingly, it is the same bullyboy tactics employed by the Toronto team that Paul Rowley enforced when he steered Leigh to top spot in 2015 - the first year of the new promotion and relegation structure. That year, Leigh won 21 from 23 games, losing just once. Despite this dominance, the Centurions won just one from seven in the Middle 8s, finishing bottom of the table.

By that time, Super League and even fellow top four Championship sides knew what was coming, and Leigh paid the price with Rowley resigning before the start of the 2016 season - although the Centurions did actually earn a promotion that year to the Super League under Neil Jukes, playing a much more attractive brand of rugby.

Remains to be seen

Predictions are coming in thick and fast as to who fans believe will retain or gain Super League status. But, despite the fact that Toronto are being tipped by the majority to get promoted for consecutive seasons, it will be far from straightforward, and just maybe lightning may strike twice for a Paul Rowley-coached team.