Toronto Wolfpack ‘can change face of rugby league’, says coach

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM (AFP) – Super League newcomers Toronto Wolfpack can change the face of rugby league in the northern hemisphere, head coach Brian McDermott said on Wednesday.

The Canadian club, who made their bow in 2017, could be joined in due course by another team from Ontario while a prospective club in New York are also waiting in the wings.

Speaking at the club’s pre-season media day in Manchester, McDermott, a former Great Britain international, said, “I’m really excited to be part of a team that I believe could change the face of rugby league in the northern hemisphere.

“I think maybe another two teams added on the same lines of Toronto Wolfpack would change the whole game, which needs to change.

“Another 25 years of Super League doing what we’ve been doing is not the answer. I can’t tell you what the answer is but I can tell you what the answer isn’t and that’s repeatedly doing what we’ve been doing for the last 25 years.

Toronto Wolfpack’s coach Brian McDermott at a press conference to launch Toronto Wolfpack’s maiden Rugby Super League season in Manchester. PHOTO: AFP

“The responsibility of continuing this journey of making this game bigger than it’s ever been lies with us and maybe Catalans and maybe another that’s outside the UK.”

McDermott admits the club’s arrival in Super League has come earlier than expected and concedes his squad is light on numbers, with just 21 players available to kick off their campaign against Castleford Tigers in the English city of Leeds on February 2.

The team will play a number of their early “home” matches in Britain due to the harsh Canadian winter. Their first game in Toronto will be in April.

Toronto’s star signing Sonny Bill Williams, a former All Black who has made the switch from rugby union to league, said he would be fit for the Super League opener, despite being left out of last Sunday’s friendly, also at Castleford.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said. “Obviously I’ve been conditioned to play the 15-man game (rugby union) for the last five years so I’ve got to try to get my running legs. That is a bit of a process but come round one I should be really fit.

“For myself it’s about building. The goal in the early part of the season will be just doing the little things well, working hard and trying to fit in. Hopefully halfway through the year I can start doing some of my stuff as well.

“I want to be flying at the end of the year.”

Williams confirmed that he intends to fly back to New Zealand after round two for the birth of his fourth child but expects to be away for only a week.

McDermott launched a passionate defence of the club’s total reliance on non-Canadian players.

“How many Canadians play for the (Toronto) Raptors that won the NBA?,” he asked. “How many people lined the streets when they brought the trophy home? Two-and-a-half million turned out for a winning team.”