Editor’s column: Would Toronto have been better off starting in Super League?

13th February 2020, DW Stadium, Wigan, England; Betfred Super League, Wigan Warriors v Toronto Wolfpack : Only a hand full of Toronto fans make the journey

Toronto find themselves in the surreal position of being both a trailblazer and a guinea pig in Super League.

The Wolfpack have lost three from three at the start of their first campaign in the top flight, and the vultures are already circling as they wait for the ambitious trans-Atlantic franchise to fail.

With Ottawa, New York and maybe other outposts watching their progress closely, it’s important to learn from the mistakes they make, as well as their successes.

While there is no shame in their defeats so far, against Grand Finalists Salford in between losses against Castleford and Wigan, who also made the play-offs last year, they’re already being predicted by betting sites to finish bottom of the Super League table.

That seems a little unfair at the moment – though the ongoing debate over their squad size and salary cap dispensations is fuelling the fire of doubt, even before coach Brian McDermott mentioned relegation as the elephant in the room in his post-match press conference on Thursday.

They’re facing a battle of trying to market the sport to a new audience, as well as putting a competitive team on the pitch.

Their move for Sonny Bill Williams undoubtedly ticks the marketing box, and while he definitely ticks the on-field one too, perhaps any other Super League club in their position would have spent the £175,000 that Williams takes up on the cap on three or four other players to bolster a squad that is already creaking after just a tenth of the season.

 

Some question how they have managed to exhaust the salary cap of approximately £2.1m already, and for that, maybe their route to Super League must be blamed.

Rather than recruit a Super League squad from the off, they instead recruited a squad that steamrollered League One and the Championship, overpaying in the process, and that has now started to come back to bite them when they’re having to compete in the top flight.

With the prospect of relegation, though unlikely in my opinion, hanging over them – the hangover from this could have potentially disastrous consequences.

We’re unsure whether the investment would continue should the Wolfpack drop out of the top flight.

It may make other overseas clubs hesitant – and should perhaps point them in the direction of going straight in to Super League as a protected franchise, as Catalans were in their early years.

Toronto are on the first losing run in their history, which adds another fascinating dynamic – how or when will the pressure mount on the likes of Brian Noble and the players, and indeed how it impacts the match day experience at Lamport Stadium.

Israel Folau has at least taken a bit of heat off the Wolfpack in terms of headlines, though the fact they generate such regular debate is great for the sport.

Nothing like the Wolfpack has ever seemed to split opinion; their rarely seems to be a middle ground. Nothing’s perfect, so if Toronto lose a few games, so what?

The way Super League has started, it may take a while to figure out just who is going to be battling out at the top or the bottom.

Weird Warrington

Warrington find themselves in a peculiar situation. Impressive in beating an admittedly understrength St Helens last week, after gaining plaudits for their brave loss to Wigan with 12 men, the Wolves limped to defeat at Wakefield.

They haven’t won successive games since early June, a quite incredible statistic for a club expected to challenge for the top honours.

The decision to drop Matty Ashton, after he starred in the opening two rounds, appeared to backfire, as the introduction of Gareth Widdop for a debut failed to inspire.

A word for Huddersfield too – the only team without a defeat in Super League this season, albeit after having played just two games.

11 Comments

  1. Shocking mismanagement by Toronto with lack of quality and numbers.
    Toronto shouldn’t be anywhere near Superleague let alone a franchise.
    Is someone’s over inflated ego of an owner enough to have SL overhauled into a franchise yet again?
    As for not being relegated,do you know something we don’t!

  2. Toronto have to be kept in super league and not relegated even if they finish bottom – what Eric Perez has done there is nothing short of a miracle and if he was in charge of the RFL abd super league the game would be in a much better place very quickly. It’s time to change his the game / leagues operates and ensure it grows not only in the North but in the expansion areas.

  3. Re rainbow flags at Catalans. Weren’t Castleford fined £40000 a few years back, after their fans abused Gareth Thomas for being gay?

  4. If they’re willing to pay something like a $40 million USD expansion fee then sure.

    In 3 years they’ve won 2 championships and several more league leaders titles while also gaining experience and most importantly growing their fanbase, all at a meager $15 million USD (or $21 mill CAD) in cost of expenses. Yet, people still complain. An expansion sports team costs more than that in Northern America just to get in and then millions more to operate.

    I am an expansionist but I am also a strategic realist and financial realist. The shills have really gotten on my nerves on how they twist and turn everything just to give Wolfpack the edge. Had they been pushed straight into Super League, either they wouldn’t have been able to afford it to even exist, or they wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to grow their own fanbase in Canada. Even 3 years in, TWP is a niche name in Canadian and Toronto sports. They would probably have sunk by now and closed up shop. When the CFL tried to expand into the US, they failed and retreated in like 2 years.

    The club isn’t making money and they’re not making the Super League or RFL any money, but at least they have accomplishments under their belt. If they were thrust straight in and gone on a losing streak or just been a mediocre club at best, then they would have had an even tougher time gaining any traction among Toronto fans.

    If clubs want to get into Super League and then try to avoid relegation on top of that, then they need to pay the price that monopoly/ring-fenced leagues expect. They won’t and can’t pay that price so why ask for the perks? Can’t eat your cake and have it too. But that’s all we hear from the shills, they don’t look at all sides. They don’t understand why Toronto isn’t getting money from a UK TV deal (Hint: because UK teams put in the work for that deal and it’s their audiences who tune in; Wolfpack have North American TV rights they negotiated and got; when they bring a TV deal to the table then they can expect a cut), they don’t understand why Wolfpack has to pay for Super League clubs’ flights to Toronto (Hint: because Super League clubs shouldn’t be expected to cover the added expenses of a new overseas club especially when they’re not yet making money from that overseas market).

  5. Would Toronto have been better off starting in Super League?
    Yes of course they would and would probably have had far more impact by now. But the one thing guaranteed is that you’ll never get agreement from RL fans.

    “Their move for Sonny Bill Williams undoubtedly ticks the marketing box, and while he definitely ticks the on-field one too, perhaps any other Super League club in their position would have spent the £175,000 that Williams takes up on the cap on three or four other players to bolster a squad that is already creaking after just a tenth of the season.”
    This is just a reflection of their vision and ambition as opposed to our sport’s lack of confidence in itself.

  6. Would have four players in a squad that can do the job then one that’s missed one game to go back home to see his baby born, then come back jet lagged and not been in RL for some time. I think they will regret putting all there money in one basket.

  7. Personally I think there is an opportunity to grow the game overseas but for rugby league to compete over the pond with American football, baseball, basketball, ice hockey it will take enormous investment which I just cannot see happening.

    People say RL is confined to the M62 but London made a great account of themselves in the SL last season and had they been given a one year immunity from relegation I believe they could grow into a great competitive side. Perhaps the answer is promotion/relegation every two years?

    There are also emerging clubs in the Wales, the North East, Midlands and of course a number of historic clubs in Cumbria who have existing fan bases. With investment and promotion into these areas there is massive potential to grow the game outside of the M62.

    I think the potential glamour of the Americanised sport franchise is appealing and of course, a money maker, but I don’t see it as realistic or sustainable. Let’s invest in our own grass roots on our own doorstep first.

  8. How many other sports have teams in a league that is not in their own country? I am all for expansion but we have to be realists, fans may go to Toronto once for the experience not every season. How many players are home grown? Have Toronto got a youth setup? Have Toronto got a reserve team? By introducing another team, have other teams been weakened? Rugby League is struggling both financially and commercially because a small fan base. Would it be better to start a league in USA/Canada with NRL and RFL teams playing invitation games/one off games to help promote the sport?

  9. In Canada we are used to having our professional sports on regular cable tv, this year being in Super League we can only get the games televised on pay tv, what a big mistake I wonder how many fans they have lost and how many they will not get because of limited availability.

  10. Absolutely NOT!

    Take an extreme case, say Saracens RUFC take exception to their punishment from the RFU, stick two fingers up to the RFU, and apply to Super League, immediate entry. Then what?

    New clubs must come through the system. That way they need to grow organically, not just flare up and die out. There should be strict requirements on local development, youth to open age.

  11. The $millions would gave been better spent creating/supporting a Canadian league. One club is not expansion. SL for British clubs for the benefit of the national team.

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