Super League executive chairman Robert Elstone says the withdrawal of Toronto Wolfpack was a big surprise and that they could face sanction after they pulled out of the 2020 season.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Elstone said: “It was a big surprise to us.
“We were aware of rumours in the game that weren’t fully aligned with what we were hearing from the club. The club’s attempts to get to the start line in 2020 and were very genuine, and only as late as last Thursday, we got verbal assurances that they were going to be ready.
“In that sense, it was a surprise, but there were mixed messages out there and so we were very much alerted.
“So late in the season it’s not helpful to us, right now we’re picking up the pieces and dealing with the consequences.”
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There has been criticism of Super League clubs reportedly refusing to loan Toronto an amount, believed to be around £200k, to allow them to continue – and Wolfpack captain Josh McCrone blasted the lack of support shown to the expansion club.
They were not allocated any central funding or TV money at the start of the year, and it was instead shared between the other clubs, and they must cover the costs of all clubs travelling to Canada.
Elstone added: “They joined the competition on a pre-existing financial arrangement which they were very much aware of, that dates back to when they were first admitted to the RFL’s competition.
“They were aware of the financial challenges. Clearly the COVID crisis has exacerbated that. They had to play every game away from home, they had challenges around players, severe logistical and operational challenges around the club.
“It became very difficult for them, and they very genuinely tried to get to the start line. It’s unfortunate that the decision has been made so close to the start of the season, but we move forward.
“Our short term priorities are re-aligning the 2020 season. In the medium term we have to look at potential sanctions for Toronto’s actions, having essentially stepped down from the competition in 2020.
“There will be some considered dialogue with the Wolfpack, Super League and other clubs about the club’s (Toronto) long-term plans and status within the Super League competition.”
Meanwhile, Elstone effectively ruled out the possibility of bringing in another club to replace Wolfpack on a short-term basis, after Championship club Featherstone Rovers made their case in the wake of Toronto’s withdrawal.
He said: “I think bringing a team in midway through the competition is difficult.
“There are all sorts of questions about what basis you do it on and what impact it has on the league, so I think my initial reaction is that it would be difficult to see us doing anything other than playing with 11 teams for the remainder of the season.”