Toronto Wolfpack are ready to embark on their maiden Super League campaign in just the third year of their existence as a professional club. The Canadian team were outstanding last season to earn promotion to the top division, winning the RFL Championship by beating Featherstone Rovers in the Million Pound Game. Brian McDermott’s men lost only one of their 29 games in the campaign, dominating the majority of their opponents to earn their way into the big time.
However, there are massive challenges ahead of the Wolfpack, despite a major coup in the signing of Sonny Bill Williams. The New Zealander changed codes to return to rugby league for a third time following the All Blacks’ semi-final defeat to England in the 2019 World Cup, handing the Canadian outfit a major star to improve their squad and their brand ahead of their inaugural Super League season. SBW has inked a two year contract, and will reportedly cost the Canadian outfit a whopping $9m (plus an ownership stake in the club)
Although Williams will provide quality, the rest of the squad have limited experience, while there is not a great deal of depth for McDermott to worth with for the long hard slog of the campaign. The Wolfpack are backed in the rugby league odds at 50/1 to finish top of the table this term. It suggests that the club have the confidence of the bookies to avoid relegation back to the Championship, despite the reservations of their coach. The Catalan Dragons were afforded a three-season immunity from relegation when they joined the league in 2011. The Wolfpack have not been granted the same luxury, meaning that McDermott and his team will be under pressure from the off.
The 49-year-old is as experienced as they come, winning four Super League crowns with the Leeds Rhinos between 2011 and 2017. His coaching and nous will be worth a great deal to Toronto as they adjust to life at the highest level along with the other demands of playing abroad. The Wolfpack will not host matches in Canada until April 18 due to the freezing temperatures the country experiences in the early months of the year. Therefore, McDermott’s men will tour England, playing their home games in Leeds, Warrington and one other venue to be confirmed before finally returning to Toronto to host Hull FC at Lamport Stadium.
Williams didn’t have it all his own in the Wolfpack’s season opener against Castleford Tigers. He had two knock ons after being introduced as a half time substitute. It will take him time to acclimatise to the game he left five years ago, but history suggests he is too good not to have an impact.
Outside of Williams, the Wolfpack do have the quality to compete at the highest level. Matty Russell was outstanding on the wing last season, scoring 28 tries in only 20 matches. The 26-year-old will have to carry that form forward, although he does have experience at the highest level having previously starred for the Warrington Wolves in their run to the Super League Grand Final in 2016. Ricky Leutele moved from the Cronulla Sharks in 2019 to join the Wolfpack and he had a fine first term, playing his rugby outside of the Southern Hemisphere. The Samoa international should have no problems adjusting to the top division.
Gareth O’Brien and Blake Wallace also have to remain consistent in their play, which helped guide the club out of the Championship. O’Brien was up and down during his time with the Salford Red Devils, while Wallace in a Super League rookie. McDermott will need the duo to hold their composure as there is not a great deal of depth available to the Wolfpack. The upcoming season will be a challenge, and it will taking everything Toronto has and more to avoid an immediate return to the second tier.