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Toronto Wolfpack's Liam Kay, left, Gadwin Springer, second from right, and Andy Ackers (14) celebrate a try against the Featherstone Rovers during the Million Pound Game in Betfred Championship rugby league action in Toronto on Oct. 5, 2019.Cole Burston/The Canadian Press

Hooker Andy Ackers has unexpectedly left the Toronto Wolfpack for the Salford Red Devils.

The 26-year-old agreed to a Salford contract that runs through the 2022 season.

“It was a surprise to us. And I’ve got to say it wasn’t without an element of disappointment from me,” Wolfpack coach Brian McDermott said.

“I spent a lot of time with Andy Ackers, talking to him about his game and trying to influence him in the right way. And made him pretty much an integral part of what we do in attack.”

McDermott said Ackers told him he wanted to play for an English club – and an end to playing games on two continents.

“I rate him highly,” McDermott said. “I think he’s a good guy. He’s a good person, he’s a great player. He has been very good for us. But what I cannot have is anybody within our squad who’s got one eye out of the joint. And if anybody’s thinking that it might be a little better to play for another club, absolutely experience tells me that it manifests itself into you as a player on the field.”

Still, McDermott acknowledged that he and the Wolfpack ask a lot of their players.

“The old transatlantic bit is glamorous, it’s great, it’s exciting. But it’s tough as well,” he said. “The players are away from their families for a while – for four or five occasions a year … And I ask them not to let any of that adversity affect them as a player at all.”

“And I’ve got to say the group of players we’ve got are committed and they are up for the fight,” he added. “And they’re up for all the turbulence that comes with the club, being transatlantic. But as soon as I get wind that any player is looking at another joint and thinking ‘I’d rather be there,’ there’s no more dialogue to have.”

McDermott wished Ackers well. “I hope he prospers. But it’s sadly not going to be with us.”

Ackers, meanwhile, enthused about his move.

“I took no persuading once I knew Salford were interested,” he told the club website.

The Wolfpack have a hooker in James Cunningham, who is back running after surgery to repair a hamstring injured in February. The versatile Hakim Miloudi offers cover at the position and captain Josh McCrone, normally a halfback, can also play at No 9.

Still, Toronto will likely be looking for help at the position.

Ackers joined the Wolfpack ahead of the 2018 season from the London Broncos. He was criticized in some quarters at the time for choosing to move across the Atlantic after citing homesickness as the reason behind the move.

Ackers explained that the Wolfpack for much of the year were based in the north of England, which was nearer to his family than London. The former Wigan junior played for the Swinton Lions before going to London in 2016.

At Salford, Ackers will be reunited with head coach Ian Watson and coaching consultant Paul Rowley, whom he previously played under at Swinton and Toronto, respectively.

“Andy will prove to be a great signing for Salford,” Watson told the club website. “He’s a player who’s coming into his prime and will add a real attacking threat, especially around the ruck, with his speed and skills, while also stiffening us up defensively.”

Super League has been shuttered since mid-March because of the global pandemic, with hopes of returning to play in August. Ackers took advantage of the sport’s hiatus to finish a college course and get certified as a barber.

Salford (2-5-0) stands 10th in the 12-team league. Toronto (0-6-0) is bottom of the table in its debut season in the English top tier.

Cunningham had a double whammy, laid low by COVID-19 while recovering from his hamstring injury which the club said at the time would sideline him for six months.

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