Sonny Bill Williams’ eagerly-awaited return to rugby league proved to be something of an anti-climax as Toronto Wolfpack suffered a 28-10 defeat to Castleford in their first-ever Super League match at Headingley.
The former All Black ended his six-year absence from the 13-man code when he was introduced from the bench 26 minutes into his new club’s opening match of the season with them trailing 10-6 and was unable to reverse their fortunes.
It was a home game for Toronto, who are not due to stage fixtures in Canada until April, but it was the visitors who bossed the show, with new half-back pair Jake Trueman and Danny Richardson the architects of an impressive victory.
Down to just 18 available players, with full-back Gareth O’Brien among the absentees from coach Brian McDermott’s 23-man squad, the Wolfpack could face a long and difficult battle to avoid an immediate return to the Championship on the evidence of their opening showing.
Yet they made a fine start with France international Hakim Miloudi threading a kick through the Castleford defence for winger Liam Kay, one of Toronto’s foundation players form 2017, to score the opening try after just three minutes.
?? Liam Kay scores @TOwolfpack first ever try in Super League
— Betfred Super League (@SuperLeague) February 2, 2020
The Wolfpack looked determined to play open rugby but it proved their undoing four minutes later when Miloudi was unable to take Josh McCrone’s pass and Tigers winger Greg Eden scooped up the loose ball to race 90 metres for an equalising score.
Richardson kicked the first of his four goals to put his side in front and they never looked back.
Prop Grant Millington crashed over from Richardson’s short pass and he would have had a second try but for a last-gasp interception by skipper McCrone.
Trailing 10-4, it was time for Williams to make his eagerly-awaited appearance but he knocked on with his first touch and repeated the error shortly afterwards in a clumsy re-introduction into the sport.
Castleford loose forward Adam Milner touched down Jordan Rankin’s grubber kick for his side’s third try, just after coming back onto the field following a concussion assessment, and skipper Michael Shenton added another before half-time, when the Yorkshiremen led 22-4.
A one-handed offload from Williams to Kay showed glimpses of what could be but the Wolfpack’s defence continued to look suspect and, after Blake Wallace prevented Cheyse Blair from touching down, it cracked again to allow centre Peter Mata’utia in for Castleford’s fifth try after 45 minutes.
Miloudi raised Toronto’s spirits when he sprinted 65 metres for an interception try on the hour and prop Adam Sidlow had one disallowed by video referee Chris Kendall as the game petered towards a predictable outcome.
Williams stayed on the field to the end and will surely be better for the run as the Wolfpack turn their thoughts to their round-two fixture at Salford on Saturday.