The Wolfpack ran their winning streak to 21 games Saturday, downing Leigh Centurions 46-12 in an ill-tempered game that prompted Toronto coach Brian McDermott to accuse the visitors of cheap shots and attempts to injure.
The Wolfpack now head to rugby league’s promotion playoffs where McDermott hopes the referees will stamp out such dark arts.
Four players — two from each side — were sent to the sin-bin with McDermott blaming Leigh for “vicious” play. McDermott said his players were merely responding to Leigh’s tactics and while he doesn’t condone it, he understands it.
“I’m having blokes with nearly broken jaws and blokes being taken off the ball and people getting hit late and people grabbing at other men’s testicles and people gouging throughout the whole game,” he said.
McDermott is no pantywaist. A former British Royal Marine, boxer and rugby league international, he administered some justice of his own on the playing field during his playing days.
“We’re all up for a tough game,” said the six-foot-four former prop forward.
But not the Leigh way. McDermott said the Centurions were targeting skill players like halfback Josh McCrone with late hits.
“More credit to our guys for finding their way to deal with it offensively,” he said of Toronto’s eight-try attack.
McDermott said watching Leigh in action was “incredibly frustrating.”
“I don’t like bullies and I don’t like hypocrites,” he said. “And I don’t have much good to say about how Leigh played today.”
The two teams have history.
Paul Rowley, Toronto’s first coach, coached at Leigh and recruited heavily from the Centurions. Like Rowley, many of those players have since departed but there is no love between the two clubs.
Toronto’s Gadwin Springer took offence at Jake Emmitt, a former Wolfpack player, slapping him in the face in the first half. McCrone threw the ball at Ryan Brierley, another ex-Toronto player, after scoring in the second half. All four were sin-binned.
The league-leading Wolfpack (26-1-0) enter the playoffs on a high note, despite the bad blood on show against fourth-place Leigh (18-9-0) before an announced crowd of 8,152 on Fan Appreciation Day at Lamport Stadium.
Toronto kept one attack after another going, with players offloading the ball in the tackle. There were fine individual efforts too, with Joe Mellor racing the length of the field for a dazzling try in the 59th minute.
Mellor’s try took Toronto’s points total to 1,000 for the season, more than 120 points better than the next team.
McCrone scored two tries and Hakim Miloudi, Gareth O’Brien, Matty Russell, Liam Kay and Bob Beswick added singles for Toronto, which led 24-6 at the half. O’Brien also booted six conversions and a penalty.
Russell’s try was his 27th of the campaign, tying Kay’s single-season team record set in 2017.
Kevin Brown and Brierley scored tries for Leigh. Martyn Ridyard, in his 250th appearance for the Centurions, kicked two conversions.
The top five teams in the second-tier Betfred Championship make the playoffs, competing for one place in the Super League. Toronto fell at the last promotion hurdle last year, losing to the visiting London Broncos 4-2 in the Million Pound Game.
Toulouse Olympique (20-7-0) edged Featherstone Rovers 26-24 earlier Saturday to secure second place in the table. The top five — York City Knights, Leigh and Featherstone fill out the field — advance to the promotion playoffs with one Super League place up for grabs.
By virtue of its first-place finish in the regular season, Toronto has a bye to the semifinals where it will play the winner of a match between Toulouse and third-place York.
“I’m confident that whoever we meet in the playoffs, our tools are sharpened for that,” said McDermott, who acknowledged he had to get rid the Wolfpack of some of their ill-discipline when he took over.
The Wolfpack coach, who has complained for weeks that opponents are try to baiting his players into penalties and retaliation, said veteran forward Jon Wilkin told the team at halftime: “This is such a good test of who we are and how we’re going to play.”
“When it gets tough in Super League next year, what will we be like? Are we going to stay on task or get distracted and go swinging handbags at the opposition players?” Wilkin continued.
Wilkin tore his bicep muscle during the game but will be ready for the Sept. 22 semifinal, according to his coach.
Toronto clinched first place in the Championship back on July 21 with a win over Widnes. The Wolfpack have not lost since March 9 when they were beaten 46-16 in Toulouse. Toronto subsequently beat the French team twice (42-14 and 28-16).
The strange existence of the transatlantic rugby league team was shown by the fact that the players left after Saturday’s game for England, where they make their homes. They are slated to return a week in advance of the semifinal.