Ryan Brierley’s first Magic Weekend appearance has come around in far different circumstances than he imagined.
When he signed for Huddersfield Giants in 2016, he thought he would get his opportunity to play at Super League’s showpiece event.
Now, his chance to play on the big stage has arrived, but as a Championship player representing a team from Canada.
It’s been a year since Brierley’s short stay in Super League came to an end, and it’s been a ride of ups and downs, tasting promotion with the Wolfpack but missing out on the World Cup due to a frustrating finger injury.
But beyond all of that, Brierley has rediscovered happiness. Upon his exit from the Giants, he cited the need to rediscover his love for the game as one of the key motives behind the move, and at Toronto, he’s found that.
“Joining Toronto Wolfpack has honestly been the best thing I’ve ever done in my career.
“To travel the world with your best mates and play in a different country is something I never thought I’d do. It’s tough dealing with the criticism, from the people who claim I’ve no ambition, because I don’t think it could be further from the truth. I learnt a lot in League 1 and Championship and I don’t think people give those divisions the credit they deserve.
“There is a little bit of unfinished business with Super League but at the time of leaving Huddersfield, I wanted to find happiness again. Being under Paul Rowley certainly gives me that with the team culture he creates. I have a lot of my best friends at Toronto and I needed to find that comfort again. Things didn’t work at Huddersfield for one reason or another and I wasn’t enjoying myself, so to go back to my comfort zone and get back on the field with them is an option I couldn’t miss.
“But more from the Toronto side I saw how big this could be. Don’t get me wrong, my goal is to play Super League with Toronto Wolfpack, but I’m happy being in a place where I can’t wait to get to training every day and that’s what it has always been about for me. It’s a hobby to me, not a job. Now I’ve got that back I’m a happier person and a more rounded person and player.”
Certainly, anyone who has watched the 26-year-old during his time at Toronto will have noticed a change in his game.
Having burst onto the scene as a free-scoring halfback with a superb support game, Brierley’s game has evolved in the last year that has seen him become a more complete player.
For the first time in his career, there are more notches in the assist chart than the try-scoring one.
While eight tries in 15 appearances have showcased the skills that made him so exciting to watch, it’s been his ability to orchestrate tries and guide Toronto around the field that has impressed the most.
For every short-range pass that has put a forward through a gap, there’s been a looping, long-range pass for an unmarked winger. With the boot, he’s not only created tries, but also lead Toronto around the field in difficult circumstances.
People watching Brierley now may wonder what’s happened. Though he may not catch the eye as much now, his overall impact is more impressive.
“My family think I’m playing rubbish because I’m not on the scoresheet every week now.
“It’s something I’ve needed to add to my game and something I’ve needed to work on. Simon Finigan has spent a lot of time with me working on parts of my game and doing the little things people don’t notice.
“I don’t go into games thinking about the try-scoring now, I think about what I can do for the team. There’s a lot of things to think about in my position and it’s something I’m enjoying, even with the added responsibility of goal-kicking. I feel like I get more credit now and more respect from my teammates and coaches alike. As long as they are happy, I’m happy.”
The game itself against Toulouse is a pivotal one for the Wolfpack. The two sides occupy the first and second places in the league table, and with victory, Brierley and co could find themselves five points clear at the top of the table by the end of the weekend.
With a two-month stint in Canada on the horizon, Toronto will be strong favourites to clinch top spot should they remain top after their game against the French side and their Summer Bash date with Leigh.
While the game with the Centurions will inevitably be hyped to the rafters, Brierley is more focused on putting things right after last weekend’s ill-disciplined display against Warrington.
“We weren’t happy with how things went in the Challenge Cup,” he said.
“We understand we have a lot of improvements to be made if we’re going to be a top team or a Super League team at the end of the year. As players we need to take responsibility, it certainly wasn’t part of the game plan like some are saying and that’s frustrating.
“Toulouse have an array of talent with Kheirallah and Ford the standouts in their team. We’ll have to work really hard to shut them down. We played them out in France and it was one of the most satisfying victories as a group and as a club that we’ve had. To beat Toulouse is no mean feat. It will be a great event for fans to witness and we have to concentrate on the two points. We understand the position it might put us in if we win the game.
Brierley also questioned the negativity surrounding the game being staged at the Super League event.
Some have stated the game being played in Newcastle shows preferential treatment towards the Wolfpack, but Brierley is adamant it’s for the greater good.
“I don’t understand the negativity around it. Why shouldn’t a Championship game be held there? I don’t see how it harms anyone and the only things to come from it will be good. It will be brilliant to play at a stadium of such history and magnitude as St James’ Park and I don’t know why you would want to deny players that opportunity.
“It’s a great event run by the RFL and Super League and for us to be invited at such an early stage in our career as an organisation is special and we’re appreciative of the opportunity. I’m sure we and Toulouse will put a great spectacle on for the fans and do the honourable thing and give the even the justice it deserves.
“It will give a touch of flavour to the Qualifiers at the end of the year and also gives us that Super League audience that doesn’t know much about the Championship a taste of what it’s about.”