Gareth O’Brien insists the opportunity to join Toronto was an opportunity he couldn’t afford to turn down after signing for Salford Red Devils.
In his first extensive interview since departing the Super League club, the fullback, etched in Rugby League folklore following his dramatic drop goal in the 2016 Million Pound Game, admitted that the lures of joining the ambitious Canadian club were too tempting from both a career and financial perspective.
The Wolfpack beat off interest from several clubs to secure the services, outbidding Castleford Tigers to get their man.
In an honest interview discussing his move, the 26-year-old explained why he made the decision to leave the Red Devils, a club where he was a firm favourite, in order to take up a deal with the Championship club.
“The decision was based on seeing more of the world and to carry on doing what I love. As a bonus, it’s going to be more beneficial towards looking after my family.
“They are a very new club, there’s a lot of hype surrounding them and they’re backed by a wealthy owner.
“I met up with Rowls (Paul Rowley) and he outlined the plans for the club. I was really impressed to be honest, it’s so exciting what they have planned for the club and the sport as a whole.
“It’s a new chapter in my career. I’ll be doing all I can to help the team this year and hopefully we can build and push for Super League.”
His decision to leave Super League to join the Championship big-spenders inevitably drew criticism from some who objected to the fact the former Warrington ace took up a deal with the Wolfpack for financial motives.
O’Brien didn’t hide away from the fact that money had played a part in his decision, and admitted that his new contract would put him a stronger position to support his family, with him and his partner keen to start a family in the near future.
“I don’t have any children yet, so in that respect it made the decision a little easier,” he said.
“But I’m looking to start a family soon with my partner, Chloe, so I just thought the benefits Toronto could bring to that part of my life was very good and I couldn’t let slip away.”
That said, O’Brien spoke highly about his former employers.
Following his decision to join Toronto, Salford released a statement in which they claimed they did not wish “to retain a player who was not 100% committed” to the club.
Although O’Brien rejected that notion, he was respectful towards the Red Devils, and in particular, their coach, Ian Watson.
“I had a long, hard chat with Watto.
“We’re really close, I played with him at Swinton and he brought me to Salford. We had a few long chats but he was really supportive of me and wanted me to make the best decision for me. He told me our relationship wouldn’t change and I respect him.
“Watto warned me that the club would take that view on it. I am a little disappointed because in my two years there I’ve been 100% committed to that club. I’ve put my body on the line week in, week out, so I was a little disappointed they went that way, but I’ve no hard feelings my end, I know I gave everything towards that club and played for the boys, coaches and fans. It is what it is.
“I’ve had nothing but good luck messages. It’s been quite overwhelming. I expected that, to be honest, it’s just the way the Salford fans are and the boys were brilliant too. It wasn’t a case of me going to Salford and saying I wanted to leave, it was just exploring my options, as I’m sure every player in my position would have done.
“I loved my time at Salford, I owe a lot to the club and to Ian Watson, he’s put a lot of faith in me and he’s moulded me into the player I am today. I’m just excited to get stuck in with my new teammates.”