The Toronto Wolfpack could be back in action in mid-August under a tentative Super League return-to-play plan.
But, barring the removal of travel and other restrictions, the transatlantic rugby league team isn’t likely to see action in Toronto before October.
The pandemic-prompted new schedule options push the sport well past the date that training camps would normally start for next season.
The Wolfpack (0-6-0) are currently on hiatus in England and have not played since March 11, when they blanked Huddersfield Giants 18-0 in the fifth round of the Challenge Cup.
The Toronto team, meanwhile, confirmed the signing of England international back Kallum Watkins on a three-year deal. The signing had been reported last month, pending league approval.
The Super League plan calls for games to resume in mid-August without spectators. The hope is matches after Oct. 1 can go ahead with limited crowds. Oct. 1 is nine days before the original date of the championship Grand Final, the 2020 season finale.
The plan, reported by the BBC and confirmed by Wolfpack CEO and president Bob Hunter, is slated to go before the Rugby Football League board of directors next week.
Hunter called the scenario “reasonably optimistic.”
The league is looking at different schedule models varying in the number of rounds – from nine to 15 – after Oct. 1. The Grand Final would be held either Nov. 28, Dec. 12 or mid-January depending on the model.
Toronto opened regular-season play Feb. 2 this season.
Players and team staff would return to action under a stringent testing COVID-19 protocol, for both training and games.
“There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes,” said Hunter.
“But at the end of the day the government will decide,” he added, referencing the return to action.
The original 2020 Super League schedule called for 29 rounds with teams each playing 28 games, 14 at home and 14 away. The Wolfpack, in their first year in the top-tier Super League, were slated to play 11 of their games at Lamport Stadium with three other “home” games to be played in England. The first game in Toronto was slated for April 18.
The Wolfpack’s final regular-season outing was originally slated for Sept. 11.
Toronto will be hoping to stage games in Canada given the revenue from a home gate. The Wolfpack currently are not getting any revenue from the league’s TV deal, a payout that normally covers the basic team salary cap of 2.1 million pounds ($3.6 million).
With the schedule pushed back and spectators likely not allowed until October, Toronto would want as many home games as early as early before the Canadian winter sets in.
Travel restrictions and quarantine demands would have to be lifted to make Canadian games happen.
“There’s a whole bunch of ducks that have got to get in a row before we actually get the green light,” said Hunter.
“Always the optimist, I believe that we can get still some games here. I think we owe it to our fans at some point to get to see (marquee signing) Sonny Bill (Williams),” he added.
The Wolfpack entered the third tier of English rugby league in 2017, winning promotion to the second-tier Betfred Championship and then Super League.
Super League is made up of 12 teams – 10 from England, Toronto and France’s Catalan Dragons.