Brian McDermott: I hope the game makes the right decision on Toronto

Toronto Wolfpack coach Brian McDermott gives his view on the developments that have affected his club in 2020 and his hopes that the Wolfpack are welcomed back into Super League in 2021.

I must admit that when the UK was first faced with the Covid-19 pandemic back in February, I couldn’t have foreseen just how challenging the next few months would be for me, my players and staff and the Toronto Wolfpack.

From my planning for a short break of say a couple of months to the eventual reality that the club wouldn’t be playing a single game in Canada in 2020, this season has become a nightmare, not only for our club but Super League in general as the game has had to face up to one of its most serious challenges in its 125-year existence.

The whole club and its players and staff have been through an extremely stressful and anxious period. And it continues to have an air of uncertainty around it, given that we don’t know what next year looks like.

And it’s in this period in which the club and I have had the chance to examine our own state of readiness for the 2020 Super League season.

After a period of self-reflection and self-analysis, I feel it’s right and proper to admit that we were under-prepared, both administratively and on the field within the football department.

I personally highlighted at the start of the year how I felt that certain rules and regulations were extremely difficult to abide by and some of them were near impossible for us to comply with. But I must admit the club and I were too distracted by those elements of our weekly challenges and we let slip certain aspects of our organisation that should have been tighter and better prepared.

The management of our available cap spend wasn’t as shrewd and as effective as we needed it to be.

We needed to find a resolution to our overseas players’ visa situation a long time before we got promoted into Super League.

The infrastructure of our club, both on the Canadian and the UK side, wasn’t as cohesive as it needed to be.

Our relationships with both the governing bodies – RFL and Super League – have been strained to say the least, and this is something that we should take responsibility for.

In short, I feel that we were under-prepared for Super League and it showed as we got exposed both on and off the field during the early part of 2020.

We spent too much time antagonising too many people within the game and not enough time preparing ourselves for a competition that takes no prisoners.

We recognise that we got our preparation wrong and made too many mistakes and were under-prepared, but it won’t happen again.

That said, no one could have predicted what has happened since mid-February. I recall having a chat with (owner) David Argyle regarding the club’s finances and how confident David was regarding his own investments that would have supported and resourced the club through the year.

I also recall the phone call I had with him about 14 days later, when he admitted that the effect that Covid had on the financial sector, where he had his investments, was pretty damaging. David did maintain ‘we will be good’ … he’d just have to work harder each month to sustain the club.

Credit must go to David that he ploughed on for four more months, but unbeknown to everyone at the club he’d literally run out of liquidity.

He must receive huge applause for his contributions to Toronto Wolfpack so far. The gesture of him writing off his personal loans to the tune of 20 million Canadian dollars cannot be overstated and will be remembered forever.

We’ve learned some harsh lessons, but now we must look to the future.

We’re excited. We have a potential new owner who possesses the complete package of ownership that every club desires. He has the wealth to back up the club through its tough years of development. He has the business acumen to come up with a business plan to make the club self-sustaining within a planned number of seasons, and he has the contacts within a thriving North American market to bring in further investors and investment into Toronto Wolfpack and maybe the whole game of Rugby League.

The majority of our squad have stayed loyal and are awaiting the outcome for the club. I have been in contact with all our potential recruits for next year and they have promised to stay with us.

I believe the potential for Toronto Wolfpack and Rugby League in North America is massive. It truly has a chance of taking off in a big way.

It’s easy for me to say that as I’ve seen it first hand. But it really is impressive to see a sold-out stadium in Canada watching Toronto Wolfpack play British teams from the UK.

The Transatlantic concept still blows me away and the appetite for any sport in the whole of North America is incomparable.

It works … we are the living proof … it’s an up and running organisation that is promoting the sport of Rugby League in a huge way in the fourth largest city that side of the pond.

The city and people of Toronto have embraced the Wolfpack as one of their sporting family, which is no small feat given the sporting heritage the city has.

But I’m nervous about our re-application into Super League. I know we have damaged bridges within the game and I know some may have already come to a judgment about us, which I feel would be an awful shame, as we didn’t get the chance to showcase Toronto Wolfpack in the city of Toronto. It does work and it has been working.

I believe that Rugby League and Super League is a more attractive sport that has a real chance to reach and impress the wider audiences and potential investors. But I also understand that this will only be true if we are a well-run organisation that complements Super League, rather than antagonises it. We as a club need to recognise we haven’t been as good as we needed to be to enhance the Super League.

Decisions will be made soon about our future, both by a potential new owner who may or may not take over, by potential investors who only want to invest in a club that has Super League status, and by the two governing bodies of Rugby League, the RFL and Super League.

For the sake of a number of invested parties … our players and staff … our fans and sponsors … the city of Toronto, which wants it to survive and maybe the game as a whole …I respectfully hope a brave and compassionate decision is made.

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