Toronto might have pulled out of Super League, with all the damage that has caused, but the Wolfpack remain a major a talking point as we await a decision on whether or not the club will be allowed back into Rugby League – and if so, at what level.
Regular readers of this column will know I wasn’t a supporter of the transatlantic project in the first place, and in my opinion, there should be no second chance, given the fallout of what has gone before.
The interview with Toronto coach Brian McDermott (pictured) on Sky late on Friday night basically boiled down to a plea for sympathy, but would he or anyone else involved at the Wolfpack have any sympathy for another struggling club? We all heard his “Northern towns” comment which he’s now backtracking on, so I’m not so sure.
Yes, Covid-19 has caused huge issues for Toronto, just as it has for all our clubs, but there were plenty of problems before the pandemic.
People talk about big crowds at Wolfpack home matches and raising the profile of the game, but there has probably been more press coverage of the club’s mid-season withdrawal and failure to pay players than anything that has ever happened on the pitch.
And what about putting down some proper Rugby League roots in the city rather than transporting a team of journeymen back and forth? Three years on and there’s not much sign of any progress on that front.
Toronto have brought the game into disrepute and caused it major embarrassment, and while new owners might take a more principled approach to running the organisation, given the logistics of one club being 3,500 miles away from the others, what’s going to be different about the financial challenges?
How is the huge cost of a North American club competing in a European competition ever going to be outweighed by any real benefit it brings?
We couldn’t make Rugby League succeed in Scarborough. So does anyone genuinely think it’s going to work across the Atlantic, whether it’s in Toronto, Ottawa, New York or any other place plucked out of a hat?
I remember back in 1996 when Maurice Lindsay talked of having teams in Barcelona and Rome as well as Paris, and said that’s why the competition was called Super League Europe.
Well 24 years on, there are no signs of a presence in Spain or Italy – and the Parisian experiment was pretty short lived.
Yes, we have Catalans Dragons going strongly in Super League, while Toulouse Olympique were very competitive in the Championship before coronavirus put the competition on hold.
But both those clubs are based in traditional Rugby League areas, and we have to accept that we are limited geographically and concentrate on ensuring the game is as healthy as it can be in those areas before looking anywhere else.
Cumbria has by and large been left to its own devices when we know there is a solid base to build on there.
Instead we have become obsessed with London, where other than in the early years of Fulham, there have seldom been any decent crowds to speak of in a city of so many millions.
And look at Sheffield, where there was once a Super League presence. For all the sterling work put in by Mark Aston and others at the Eagles, crowds rarely reach four figures.
Forget about trying to compete with rugby union or football, which are different sports that are far more entrenched nationally and globally.
Let’s accept that Toronto is another Scarborough, South Wales or Mansfield. Move on and focus on areas where we know there is interest and where we can make the sport the best it can be with the resources we have.
Hull KR get a bad deal
The decision to decide the Super League table by points percentage has proved tough on Hull KR.
Tony Smith’s men have produced a couple of cracking performances, beating Wigan before taking St Helens all the way to golden point extra time, yet still find themselves bottom of the pile.
Perhaps the powers-that-be set too ambitious a target in terms of the number of fixtures in this most unusual of seasons, but there was a TV deal crucial to the very survival of the sport that needed to be struck.
And perhaps the protocols over protecting players and staff against the spread of Covid-19 need to be tighter, because we seem to have had more issues than the NRL and other sports.
But at this stage, we are where we are, and it’s vitally important that we carry on with both Super League and the Challenge Cup in order to meet those TV commitments.
Rovers have certainly added interest and entertainment to both Super League and Challenge Cup, and I’m looking forward to seeing how things go in Friday’s quarter-final clash with Leeds.
As I’ve said before, I like the refreshing way Tony sets his teams up, and I like the way, along with a number of his fellow coaches, that he’s given younger players an opportunity.
Mikey Lewis had a blinder against Saints, and he’s one of a number of players I’ll be keeping a close eye on going forward.
Coote starting to shine
Come on you halfbacks!
No one is a stauncher supporter of stand-offs and scrum-halves than me, so you may be surprised at my choice of the current three top contenders for this year’s Man of Steel award.
Leading the way at the moment is Alex Walmsley, who was excellent once again for Saints against Hull KR on Friday, followed by Liam Watts, who has been so consistent for Castleford, then Lachlan Coote.
Two front rowers in my top three! Who would have believed it?
Coote is my favourite fullback of the current crop, and I thought he was excellent for Saints against Hull KR.
The former North Queensland man is dynamic and entertaining and brings a new dimension to the role, and I love the way Kristian Woolf has him operating almost as a second stand-off.
For my money, he is Saints’ best overseas signing since Jamie Lyon, who was a title winner under Daniel Anderson back in 2006.
Coote was a key man as Saints won the title last season, and with six wins from six since the restart, Woolf’s side are going to take some stopping as they aim to make it two in a row.
Salford will suit Kallum
Good luck to Kallum Watkins on his move to Salford.
He’s had a tough time of it with injury and his father’s illness, which cut short his switch to the NRL with Gold Coast Titans.
Then came a move to Toronto, which collapsed along with the club. And given the awful situation so many Wolfpack players have found themselves in, if that club carries on, who is going to want to make a commitment to a set-up so far away and with such a chequered reputation?
Now Kallum has the security of a three-year deal at a club he knows well.
He’ll be playing under a coach who likes expansive rugby and employs tactics that suit the likes of Kallum.
Hopefully he’ll rediscover the form we know he’s capable of and will be pushing for an international recall before too long.
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