The Toronto Wolfpack made mistakes on and off the field, was underprepared for promotion to the top-tier Super League and has “damaged bridges within the game,” according to coach Brian McDermott.
But McDermott, one of the rugby league’s most successful coaches, says the troubled transatlantic franchise, which stood down July 20 because of financial problems, is good for the sport if it can solidify its structure and business plan.
In an open letter released Tuesday, McDermott says while no one could have anticipated the global pandemic, the club has to look into the mirror for some of its problems.
“In short I feel that we were under-prepared for Super League, and this showed as we got exposed both on and off the field during the early part of the 2020 season,” McDermott said of his team, which struggled to a 0-6-0 start prior to Super League halting play in mid-March.
“We spent too much time antagonizing too many people within the game, and not enough time preparing ourselves for a competition that takes no prisoners. We recognize we got our preparation wrong, made too many mistakes and were underprepared in certain areas. That will not happen again.”
While Super League’s remaining 11 teams have restarted play, the Wolfpack remain on the sidelines. Their hope is to be readmitted in 2021 under new ownership — with Toronto businessman Carlo LiVolsi hoping to buy the team.
“We have a potential new owner who possesses the complete package of ownership that every club desires,” McDermott said of LiVolsi. “He has the wealth to back up the club through its tough years of development. He has the business acumen to come up with a business plan to make the club self-sustaining within a planned number of seasons.”
The Wolfpack coach, who helped fill Leeds Rhinos' trophy case in his eight seasons as coach there, called the COVID-19-interrupted season “a nightmare for not only our club but for the Super League in general.
“The game as a whole has had to face up to one of its most serious challenges in its 125-year existence,” he added.
He still believes the sport and Super League are better with Toronto part of it.
“However I also understand that this will only be true if we are a well-run organization that complements Super League, rather than antagonize it. We as a club need to recognize we have not been as good as we needed to be to enhance the Super League.”
McDermott said while some of the league’s existing rules and regulations were hard on a trailblazer such as Toronto, the club did not help the situation by failing to manage its salary cap as shrewdly or effectively as needed.
He said the franchise should also have found a resolution to the visa issue for its overseas players long before promotion to Super League. McDermott also pointed to the club infrastructure on both sides of the Atlantic as being “not as cohesive as it needed to be.”
And he said the franchise had to take responsibility for the “strained” relationship with the sport’s two governing bodies: the Rugby Football League and Super League. Those two bodies will decide the club’s future.
McDermott hopes they will make “a brave and compassionate decision” on Toronto’s future. But he admitted he is “nervous” about the club’s reapplication to Super League.
“I know we have damaged bridges within the game and I know some may have already come to a judgment about us. I feel it would be an awful shame if did not now get the chance to showcase Toronto Wolfpack in the Super League to the city of Toronto. It does work, it has been working.”
McDermott, who took over Toronto in December, 2018, and led the team to promotion to England’s top tier in his first year at the helm, says he still believes the potential for the Wolfpack and rugby league in North America is “massive.”
“It truly has a chance of taking off in a big way. That is easy for me to say that as I’ve seen it firsthand. It really is impressive to see a soldout stadium in Canada watching Toronto Wolfpack play teams from the U.K.”
“The city and people of Toronto have embraced the Wolfpack as one of their sporting family, which is no small feat given the sporting heritage the city has,” he added.
McDermott paid tribute to majority owner David Argyle, who is stepping away from the team because he says he can no longer fund it.
“He must receive huge applause for his contributions to Toronto Wolfpack so far while the gesture of him writing off his personal loans, to the tune of $20 million, cannot be overstated and will be remembered forever.”
Still, Toronto players have not been paid since June 10. Some have left the club while others have joined teams on short-term loans.