Mailbox: Noble no more – will Toronto go the same way as Crusaders?

James Gordon

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Dear Editor,

The news that Brian Noble and the Toronto Wolfpack have parted ways left me with a case of deja vu.

Noble was the architect of a playing roster for an expansion team outside of the traditional rugby league heartlands. The squad was an interesting international mixture of veterans and outsiders. And of course, the hallmark signing was one of the biggest names of international rugby union. The team performed admirably despite the various difficulties of being an expansion club. Then Noble left.

I am referring, of course, to Crusaders Rugby League. After a 3-24 debut season in Super League, Crusaders brought in Noble to assemble a competitive side. His team included several young Welshmen who would go on to have successful careers–Ben Flower, Gil Dudson, and Eliot Kear are still playing at the top level of the game. The squad also included veteran campaigners from the antipodes–Clinton Schifcofske and captain Ryan O’Hara had each played a game of two in State of Origin, and Tony Martin had a remarkable career bouncing back and forth between Super League and the NRL. The team also boasted players with somewhat more exotic international resumes–Jason Chan, Frank Winterstein, Rocky Trimarchi, and Jarrod Sammut had represented PNG, Samoa, Italy, and Malta, respectively. And the biggest signing in the team’s history was a true superstar of rugby union–Gareth Thomas had represented Wales a record (since broken) 100 times and captained the British and Irish Lions.

Most importantly, this seemingly rag-tag group performed reasonably well on the field. They made the playoffs in just their second season at the top level, albeit with a 12-15 regular season record. (The ever-shifting Super League playoff format is a subject for another letter.) And Crusaders had every chance of winning their first playoff game, with only a very silly Jordan James sin-binning and an errant pass proving the difference.

And then Brian Noble left. The next year Crusaders finished dead last in Super League and folded as an organization.

It appears that Noble was the primary architect of the Toronto Wolfpack squad as well, a squad that very much has the rag-tag feel of that 2010 Crusaders team. And there is no denying that until the beginning of this season, the Wolfpack has performed remarkably well.

And now Brian Noble has left. Hopefully Toronto can survive his departure; Crusaders couldn’t.

Anxious in America

Editor’s comment: An interesting comparison, though the Wolfpack are surely far more stable than the nomadic Crusaders. The way Noble managed to build teams from the ground up is certainly a credit to him, though how responsible he is for overpaying a raft of the current Toronto team is up for debate.

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