They didn’t know a good player from a bad player: why Toronto went wrong

George Riley
Paul Rowley Toronto Wolfpack PA

Toronto Wolfpack founder Eric Perez (left), head coach Paul Rowley (centre) and Toronto Mayor John Tory (right) hold up Wolfpack jerseys in 2016

Paul Rowley describes coaching Toronto as the best thing he has ever done but admits the project was doomed to failure from the start.

The Salford head coach took charge of the Wolfpack’s inaugural season in 2017 but worked there for a year before that, conducting trials around North America, Vancouver, Jamaica, Tampa, Philadelphia and Toronto. 

“It was the best thing I have ever done in sport,” Rowley told the Love Rugby League Podcast.

”The group who shared that journey all have the same opinion. It was an unbelievable experience. I got to pitch the first pitch at a Blue Jays baseball game, open the Stock Exchange, speak in Parliament, and VIP at McGregor v Mayweather. What was going on?! 

“But the best thing was the group of lads. I remember my first speech on the field where we practiced, by a portacabin with no training kit. We sat down in the mud and I said ‘if you’ve ever toured you will meet friends for life and memories for life, it is special.’”

Toronto strategy was floored

Toronto’s dream turned sour in the summer of 2020 when they withdrew from Super League citing financial difficulties and logistical problems caused by the pandemic, eventually ceasing operations. And Rowley believes the business strategy was floored.

He said: “Sometimes the team bus didn’t turn up so we would catch the tram with the public and all our medical beds and stuff.

“I said to (owner) David Argyle you should have put your money into creating six North American teams, you shouldn’t have tried to conquer the English market.

“They didn’t know a good player from a bad player. They could have got a load of Championship players, created their own rules and their own rivalries. What they do is they love it and they spend money. It was that close to take off, a real shame but a good experience.”


A new dawn for rugby league in North America

A private investment group purchased the Wolfpack last spring with the intention to play in a newly formed North American Rugby League competition.

“I’m a bit confused with the American project, they seems to have two strands which need to unify,” Rowley adds.

“I got offered a job before Covid to run the Western side of America, as a football director in the LA side who were going to take it to Vegas. They wanted me out to Vegas to coach the Blackjacks, with Lance Hohaia flying in and out as a consultant. It was all a bit whacky and got bumped because of Covid. I wasn’t going to take the job anyway.

“There is no money there but there are people who want it to work. I think you need another five or six Argyles to be happy to waste a few quid. He spent £20million, love him or hate him.

“I hope it takes off, I don’t know how, I’m not expecting it to but I’m hopeful.”

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