Season Review 2020: Wolfpack driven to extinction

Five things we learned from Toronto Wolfpack’s season

1: The Covid-19 crisis couldn’t have come at a worse time for the only transatlantic club in frontline professional sport. It was their debut season in Super League and they had played seven matches, all of them away from home, when the lockdown began.

2: Unlike British clubs, the Wolfpack had no external means of funding their players during the lockdown. That lack of financial support ensured their demise.

3: The decision to not bring back the Wolfpack into Super League was taken by the other Super League clubs on a straight vote, with the RFL as the sport’s governing body having just one vote. Multiple conflicts of interest were only too obvious. The contrast with the process that resulted in Leigh Centurions taking the Wolfpack’s place in Super League was stark.

4: The Wolfpack demonstrated the importance of effective management of the salary cap. They came into the season with a limited squad that was top heavy in terms of the salary cap, leaving them exposed with no flexibility once injuries started to hit their players. They were then reduced to trying to persuade other clubs to loan them players to help them with compiling matchday squads.

5: The Wolfpack signed Sonny Bill Williams to great acclaim in the close season, but Sonny Bill demonstrated that he wasn’t a one-man team, failing to inspire the club to any Super League victories and missing the Challenge Cup game that they actually won. Paying big money to ageing stars is always a high-risk strategy.

Finishing position
The Wolfpack failed to finish at all, having withdrawn from the Super League competition when it returned in August and then being unceremoniously expelled from Super League Europe on 3rd August when their participation agreement was withdrawn. When the club applied to return in 2021 it suffered an 8-4 defeat among inflicted by the other Super League clubs.

Best result
The Wolfpack only had one victory during the 2020 season, and it came in their last ever game – an 18-0 win against Huddersfield Giants on a rainy night at the John Smith’s Stadium in the fifth round of the Challenge Cup with Ricky Leutele scoring two tries. Leutele will now play for the Giants in 2021.

Worst result
Only six days before their Challenge Cup victory over the Giants, Toronto had travelled to Headingley and were on the end of a 66-12 hammering by the Rhinos.

Best player
In an awful year for the club, their outstanding player was centre Ricky Leutele, who played in every game and was one of the few Wolfpack stars to enhance his reputation.

Best young player
Technically the Wolfpack didn’t have any young players, if we define young players as having been under the age of 21 on the first day of 2020. But if we expand that definition to include Super League rookies, then hooker Andy Ackers gave a fine account of himself, both for the Wolfpack and later on for Salford Red Devils.

Best overseas player
Ricky Leutele was the club’s best player and therefore the best overseas player, with Sonny Bill Williams also showing some glimpses of his undoubted international quality.

Try of the year
When Liam Kay gave the Wolfpack a 4-0 lead after only four minutes of their opening game of the season, touching down a kick by Hakim Miloudi, things looked promising for the Wolfpack. Unfortunately things went downhill from that point.

Quote of the year
“Betfred Super League has terminated Toronto Wolfpack’s Super League Participation Agreement for the 2020 season following its withdrawal from the competition last month.
“Super League’s action reflects the seriousness of the breach of contract by Toronto Wolfpack, which has impacted Super League and its member clubs.
“The Wolfpack would now have to enter into a new Participation Agreement before being able to play in the competition in 2021.
“As previously stated by Super League and The RFL, any application received from the Club will be given full and timely consideration.”
The press release issued by Super League (Europe) on 3 August that signalled the beginning of the end for the Wolfpack.

Image of the year
Wolfpack players who had gone without their salaries for several months receiving food parcels to help them through a desperate situation.

Defining moment
The decision by SLE to reject the Wolfpack’s application to return to the competition in 2021, which was handed down on 2 November following the clubs’ 8-4 vote against them.
“As part of our comprehensive investigation into this whole subject, Super League appointed an independent committee of sports industry experts, with representation from The RFL, to examine commercial opportunities for Rugby League in Canada,” said SLE Executive Chairman Robert Elstone.
“Its findings were unanimous – that operating a team in a fiercely competitive North American sports market was non-strategic and added no material incremental revenue to Super League in the short or medium term.”
And, with that statement, Super League closed the door on one of the most innovative new developments ever seen in the world of professional team sports, leaving other sports to take advantage of the trail blazed by the Wolfpack.

The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.