Ryan Brierley has opened up on his Toronto Wolfpack nightmare and says the “horrendous” mismanagement he suffered prompted his desire to become a player agent.
The Scotland international is enjoying a dream start to the season at boyhood club Salford, scoring a try on his home debut as the Red Devils made it two wins out of two.
Brierley joined Salford from relegated Leigh and is flourishing under head coach Paul Rowley with whom he worked at both Leigh and that ill-fated stint at Toronto prior to the cash-strapped Canadian side’s withdrawal from Super League.
Many Wolfpack players were left financially crippled by the club’s demise. And in a compelling discussion on this week’s “The Big Interview” Brierley tells me how being forced out of Toronto in 2019 has giving the 29-year-old a burning desire to help other sportsmen and women navigate their careers.
“I was going through a tough time in my career at Toronto,” he told Love Rugby League.
“I was not wanted, going through a bit of a nightmare, not being treated so well. I’d never want any of my players to go through what I had to go through.
“The mental stress and seeing your family in tears because of how you’d been treated through sport. How is that right?
“I had no answers. They just wanted me out and were trying everything to get rid of me.
“Some of the stuff was horrendous that I had to go through, totally underhand and not fair.
“To see my mum struggle with that was bang out of order.
“I can handle twitter, and the trolling. But when your own club tries to do anything they can to get rid of you that wasn’t fair on my family.
“I always wanted to be the guy who helps that player if it ever happens to them. So I set up a sports management business and I now work in women’s football with Jess Park at Manchester City.
“To be involved with a club like that which is a far cry from rugby league was daunting and mind-blowing but I’ve loved every minute of it and have six or seven players now on the books.
“Rugby League has taught me don’t trust anybody. But the people you do end up trusting are probably the best you’ll ever meet.”
Ryan Brierley on Salford half-backs
Ryan Brierley believes Salford’s excellent start to the season is down in no small part to new half-back pairing Brodie Croft and Mark Sneyd, plus the attentive management of boss Rowley.
“Rowley gets me. He knows me probably better than I know myself.
“His biggest skill is man-management. He will treat us all differently. You can’t treat everyone the same. That’s sometimes used by coaches as a cop-out.
“Rugby players are not hard to please. We are very simple characters who want to be told what to do and when to do it. As long as we get that we are happy. We are not footballers, we don’t want that preferential treatment.
“I’m excited by the axis with Mark Sneyd and Brodie Croft. It was a big reason for me joining the club. We are just a few rugby nerds enjoying each other’s company and trying our best.”
Toulouse’s chances of avoiding the drop
Salford’s second straight win came over newly-promoted Toulouse, who Brierley feels need to abandon their caution and go back to the attacking game that saw them race to the Championship title.
“I don’t know if they have come up to Super League and decided to rein it in a bit. I just think they have taken away what they were really good at.
“At Leigh last season we tried to play safe early on and we struggled with it and felt more comfortable at the back end of the season by offloading and chancing our arm because you can’t go toe to toe with the top teams Like St Helens, Wigan, Warrington, Leeds.
“Toulouse have a free hit every week as nobody expects them to win. So rather than try and grind to do something you are not used to, give it a go.
“I’m a big advocate that there should be no relegation for the promoted teams in that first year. I’ve been there and know how hard it is to recruit and train. The mistake we made at Leigh was being too cautious at the start of the season. Toulouse have probably done the same.”
Emotions of homecoming
And what of his own happiness at playing for the team he supported as a child at The Willows? Surely the perfect antidote to that nightmare in Canada?
“Every week there’s a new group chat of my family arranging going to a home game or away game and there’s 20 or 30 people and I always have to remove myself from it as you get fired up and emotional.
“The euphoria to be here is great, to see people in the stands that I used to stand with and they don’t know I remember them but I do.
“When I scored I looked behind the sticks and they were all there, and I’ve stood with them singing Salford songs and that was my childhood every week.
“Sneydy walked past me after my home debut and said ‘don’t cry, don’t cry’.
“Rugby league doesn’t give you a lot for when you finish playing. For me it is the memories and friendships you make.
“In rugby league there are some great people.
“For me I set out a dream and when I played for Salford for the first time against Castleford I’d ticked that box and achieved my dream.
“Nobody can take that away from me.”