Written by Callum Walker
Newly-promoted Toronto have yet to win in the top flight following their promotion from the Championship last season. Six games have yielded six losses with 214 points accrued against them, so, when the Wolfpack headed to the John Smith’s Stadium for the Challenge Cup, few believed that the Canadian side could overcome a purring Huddersfield who had triumphed in four out of five league games at the start of 2020.
But, two Ricky Leutele tries and five Gareth O’Brien goals proved enough to overcome the Giants by 18 points to nil. It was hardly a classic, yet, it highlighted just how dangerous and effective Toronto could be with ball in hand and how vociferous they could be in defence, particularly when considering that the Wolfpack had not conceded less than 24 points in their opening six fixtures.
The struggles the Canadian outfit have faced in 2020 so far have been well documented. The signing of Sonny Bill Williams – though a superstar he is – and the inflated wages of a number of the squad led to head coach Brian McDermott heading into the new season with just 23 players on the roster, given the lack of cap space to bring in any other recruits.
That led to pleas to the governing body to grant them dispensation which didn’t go down well with the other Super League clubs. Still, a £105,000 proposal was finally drawn up as the Wolfpack seemingly got their way.
This kind of dispensation is not unique either; London are able to spend an additional ten percent of the salary cap with a London weighting. However, with Toronto spending months at their English base in Manchester, the plan was to give the Wolfpack an extra five percent – £105,000.
Off-field problems aside, it’s the on-field issues that have been most disappointing. Predicted to take Super League by storm, the Wolfpack have fallen flat on their face as the rest of the top-flight fraternity point and laugh with most hoping that relegation would end the Canadian experiment.
With London pushing each and every Super League team close in 2019- indeed, the Broncos ended their top-flight stay on points difference alone – the same, or even better, was expected of Toronto in 2020. But, that has been far from reality as the Wolfpack claim the status of Super League’s whipping boys.
— Toronto Wolfpack (@TOwolfpack) March 11, 2020
The hope of becoming an established top-flight side has dissipated in the opening rounds, but the most successful franchise club – Catalans Dragons – were exempt from relegation in their first season in 2006. They finished bottom that year, but scaled the table to sit in third by the end of 2008.
Now, removing Toronto’s ability to drop back to the Championship would create sensational uproar and perhaps isn’t the right path to go down, but it is proven that it takes promoted teams a number of years to get up to speed with top-flight Rugby League.
The Canadian side’s victory over Huddersfield may well have been that “getting up to speed” finally occurring. It would certainly have given McDermott’s men plenty of heart. And, with an extended break to work on structures and enhance team spirit, that victory could well prove decisive later down the line.