The Toronto Wolfpack look to regain some of their dignity and reputation this weekend after an embarrassing, franchise-worst 66-10 loss to Super League side Warrington in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup.
But they’ll have to do it Saturday against a tough Toulouse Olympique XIII team – and without injured winger Adam Higson.
Helped off the pitch last Saturday, Higson suffered a concussion, damaged ankle and broken collarbone. He had surgery this week.
Lopsided score aside, Toronto coach Paul Rowley won’t forget the Warrington game any time soon.
“It’s quite difficult doing a post-match speech when you’ve got a player lying on a bed unconscious with a drip in him and taking on morphine,” Rowley said. “It’s quite a new experience but not one I’m looking forward to ever doing again.”
Scottish international Matty Russell is expected to make his Wolfpack debut in place of Higson, who won’t be back before the playoffs.
Saturday’s game at Newcastle’s St. James Park is part of the so-called Magic Weekend, an annual festival of rugby league.
The Toronto-Toulouse contest serves as the curtain-raiser for the two-day event, which features all 12 Super League teams in action. It’s the first time a Betfred Championship match has been included.
Toronto leads the second-tier Championship with an 11-1-1 record, ahead of Toulouse at 10-3-0. The Wolfpack won 24-22 when the two met April 2 in France.
“They’re a very very good team,” Rowley said. “They play really good rugby. They’re fast. It’s a big pitch, it’s going to be hot weather … . We’ve definitely got a tough task ahead but we’re looking forward to it.”
The Wolfpack have won nine straight league matches since a 47-16 loss to the London Broncos on Feb. 25.
In addition to Higson, Toronto will be without forwards Darcy Lussick and Jack Buchanan; both are out with shoulder injuries.
The Wolfpack will be looking to play with some composure after collecting one red card and three yellows in an ill-disciplined showing against Warrington.
Leading 8-0 early in a chippy first half, Toronto conceded 54 unanswered points in the second half as a procession of Wolfpack players was sent to the sidelines. Toronto was reduced to 10 men at one point in the second half.
Andrew Dixon was sent off for punching a Warrington player while Lussick and captain Josh McCrone were sin-binned for talking back to the referee.
Warrington captain Chris Hill said the Wolfpack played like a “pub team.”
In the face of some calls that didn’t go their way, Toronto “became quite petulant,” said Rowley.
“We get tough calls every week so whether that was a shock and we expected a different scenario I’m not sure, but the way we responded to that was like 10-year-old kids and [we] took our ball home.”
Rowley said Toronto should have been ahead 20-0 in the first half. He didn’t bother showing the squad the second half of the game in his video review, saying there was plenty to critique in the first 40 minutes.
“And it was a really ugly, honest but brutal review. We pulled no punches,” he said.
He expects an motivated side Saturday.
“What I’m looking for this week – forget the win, forget the loss whatever [happens] – we’re going to play [the game] the way it’s meant to be played, with a good spirit and good attitude and good discipline.
“I don’t think we’ll get to full redemption but we’ll go a long way to fixing it and showing what we’re really about,” Rowley added.