Majority owner David Argyle is stepping away from the Toronto Wolfpack with the transatlantic rugby league team, currently in limbo, entertaining new ownership.
Wolfpack president and chief executive Bob Hunter said the team is mulling over separate “solid” offers, one from North America and the other from Britain.
“David is walking away,” Hunter said in an interview. “And the two [groups] that are in I’d call it the horse race, we’re evaluating which is in the best interest of the club and Super League going forward.”
Argyle, a Toronto-based Australian entrepreneur who specializes in mining and natural resources in emerging markets, estimates he and his ownership group have poured $30-million into the club that first took the field in 2017.
“He’s had a great run. He’s spent a lot of his own money,” Hunter said. “It was time. I hate to say time to give up, but more so important to just stop investing in the club. And so he made that decision a couple of weeks ago and asked us to go and see if we could find some new owners.”
Argyle’s plan to sell shares in the club a la the Green Bay Packers is off the table now, Hunter said.
Argyle said it’s time for him to step aside so the club can move forward – and the new ownership group has “a clear runway.”
“From the club perspective it’s important that we continue the original mission, which is to get North America hooked on rugby and to put more rugby balls in kids’ hands. So I think in that regard it is a positive,” he said of his decision to let others take up the mantle.
The news comes in the wake of the Betfred Super League’s decision Monday to terminate Toronto’s participation agreement after its withdrawal from the competition last month.
Super League said its action “reflects the seriousness of the breach of contract by Toronto Wolfpack, which has impacted Super League and its member clubs.”
The Wolfpack presented its case to a Super League board meeting Monday, asking for more time to consider its options. But the league, which has already expunged Toronto from the 2020 standings, instead terminated its agreement with the team.
The Wolfpack will now have to apply for and enter into a new participation agreement before being able to play in the competition in 2021.
Hunter, who called the league’s move “more of a legality that anything else,” said the club plans to submit a restructuring plan in the next seven to 10 days.
Toronto had issues with its existing deal with the Super League. Under terms of that agreement, the Wolfpack was not entitled to a cut of the league’s TV deal and was an invitee rather than a member club.
Citing the global pandemic, the Wolfpack announced July 20 that it could not afford to take part in the remainder of the Super League season. Argyle said his players were free to negotiate with other clubs for the remainder of the 2020 season.
Play resumed Sunday with the Super League down to 11 teams.
Argyle had said he wanted to field a team next season but that will be up to rugby league authorities. If they do want Toronto back, there is no guarantee it will be back in Super League – meaning the club may find itself back in the lower divisions of English rugby league.
The Wolfpack started life in 2017 in the third-tier League 1, winning promotion to the second-tier Championship before making its debut in the elite Super League this season. Toronto went 0-6-0 before the league shut down in March because of the pandemic.
Wolfpack star centre Ricky Leutele, meanwhile, appears headed to the Melbourne Storm.
According to Australian reports, the Australian-born Samoan international is on the verge of joining Wolfpack teammate Sonny Bill Williams back in the National Rugby League.
Williams and his family are currently in quarantine in Sydney after returning from England, and the former All Black is expected to suit up for the Sydney Roosters for the remainder of the season.
Williams, who turned 35 Monday, played for Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs from 2004 to ’08 and the Roosters in 2013-14.
Frank Ponisi, the Storm’s general manager of football, told Australian media that Leutele’s signing was imminent.
The 30-year-old Leutele, meanwhile, told Sydney’s Nine News he was last paid by the Wolfpack in May.
Argyle had said the club will make good on missed salary payments. The Wolfpack now says the new owners “would need to honour all payroll commitments and future contractual obligations.”
Leutele said he and his family are living on his savings.
“We’re just chipping [away] at that but you know the [savings] are meant for rainy days and I’m hoping the rain stops soon,” he told the Sydney station.
Ironically, Leutele broke Storm hearts in the 2016 NRL grand final when he made a try-saving tackle on Melbourne winger Marika Koroibete in the dying seconds to preserve the Cronulla Sharks’ 14-12 championship win.
Leutele and Williams were the Wolfpack’s designated marquee players this season, meaning only £150,000 ($262,455) of their respective salaries counted against the Wolfpack’s salary cap of £2.1-million ($3.67-million).