Brian McDermott says Toronto Wolfpack can ‘change the face of rugby league’

By Ian Laybourn, PA

Super League newcomers Toronto have the chance to change the face of rugby league in the northern hemisphere, says head coach Brian McDermott.

The Canadian club achieved their goal of promotion to Super League within three years of their formation and could be joined in time by another team from Ontario, with Hemel given the go-ahead to re-locate and join League One in 2021, while a prospective club in New York are also waiting in the wings.

Speaking at the club’s pre-season media day at the Etihad Campus in Manchester, McDermott 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.

“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 he concedes his squad is light on numbers, with just 21 players available to kick off their campaign against Castleford at Headingley on Sunday week.

“We’ve got a few challenges,” he said. “We genuinely are capable of doing some really special things this year but we’re also very aware that we need to be really good to avoid the bottom of the table as well.”

Toronto’s high-profile signing Sonny Bill Williams told the press conference that he will be fit for that game, despite being left out of last Sunday’s friendly at Castleford.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said. “Obviously I’ve been conditioned to play the 15-man game for the last five years so I’ve got to try to get my running legs. That is a bit of 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.

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

Sonny Bill Williams is set to be the Wolfpack’s star attraction this season (Martin Rickett/PA)

“How many Canadians play for the 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.”

Wolfpack chairman Bob Hunter, who was part of a club delegation that flew in from Toronto for the launch, announced that the club’s “away” game against St Helens on February 29 will no longer be played at the home of Saracens.

“Both sides decided it would be better to take our game elsewhere,” he said. “We haven’t finalised where but certainly it will be in London.”

Hunter also revealed the club plans to host the touring Kangaroos at the 30,000-capacity BMO Field, which is home to Toronto FC of Major League Soccer and the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, on October 24 ahead of the Ashes Series in England.

Hunter also said Toronto are in advanced discussions with Sky and Super League about TV coverage of their home games and says he is hoping to persuade Super League clubs in future to allow the Wolfpack a share of central funding.

“We inherited this deal and now it’s time to talk abut different terms because we need it to survive,” he said.