Toronto Wolf­pack back on the prowl for next pro­mo­tion push

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Sports - NEIL DAVID­SON

TORONTO — The pro­mo­tion push starts anew for the Toronto Wolf­pack next month when the play­ers re­port to train­ing camp.

Co-owner David Ar­gyle says the transat­lantic rugby league team will bring new tal­ent and ideas to the ta­ble in its bid to se­cure Su­per League sta­tus af­ter fall­ing three points short in last Sun­day’s Mil­lion Pound Game.

Toronto, which topped the sec­ond-tier Bet­fred Cham­pi­onship this sea­son, fell 4-2 to Lon­don Bron­cos in a tense pro­mo­tion show­down at Lam­port Sta­dium. Ar­gyle says the game, which drew a Wolf­pack-record crowd of 9,266, was like “watch­ing a train fall off its tracks in slow mo­tion.”

“It felt some­what sur­real,” he added.

But he cred­ited the Bron­cos, who fin­ished sec­ond to the Wolf­pack in the reg­u­lar sea­son, for their tough de­fence. “Good on them,” he said.

Toronto missed out on au­to­matic pro­mo­tion on points dif­fer­ence in the Su­per 8s Qual­i­fiers, ne­ces­si­tat­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Mil­lion Pound Game.

On the plus side, Ar­gyle said he felt pride in his team — on and off the field — and the crowd that showed up on Thanks­giv­ing Sun­day.

While the new sea­son won’t likely open un­til early Fe­bru­ary, the Wolf­pack are sched­uled to open train­ing camp Nov. 18 in Eng­land.

Ros­ter changes are al­ready in the works. Ar­gyle says the Wolf­pack busi­ness plan has not changed de­spite the pro­mo­tion set­back.

“We’ve got some re­ally good play­ers, in­ter­na­tional play­ers join­ing the squad,” Ar­gyle said.

“We had a five-year plan. We had a shot at do­ing the five-year plan in two years. Back-to-back pro­mo­tions are pretty hard. We’ll be back next year with, I think, an im­proved, deeper squad.”

Ricky Leutele, a 28-year-old Samoan in­ter­na­tional who has spent his en­tire ca­reer with the Cronulla Sharks in Aus­tralia’s NRL, has al­ready an­nounced he is com­ing to Toronto.

Bri­tish re­ports also have vet­eran St. He­lens for­ward Jon Wilkin and Widnes Vik­ing scrum half Joe Mel­lor join­ing the Wolf­pack. Toronto for­wards Richard Whit­ing, who turns 34 in De­cem­ber, and Cory Paterson, 31, have talked of re­tir­ing.

The 34-year-old Wilkin, a for­mer Eng­land in­ter­na­tional who has made more than 400 ap­pear­ances for St. He­lens since 2002, has two Grand Fi­nals, four Chal­lenge Cups and a World Club Chal­lenge on his rugby league re­sume.

The 27-year-old Mel­lor’s Widnes team was rel­e­gated in a Su­per 8s Qual­i­fiers loss in Toronto.

The pro­mo­tion-rel­e­ga­tion for­mat changes next sea­son with the bot­tom Su­per League club drop­ping au­to­mat­i­cally and the five top Cham­pi­onship sides play­ing off to see who moves up.

Ar­gyle also re­mains com­mit­ted to rais­ing the pro­file of the sport. That in­cludes try­ing to bring a top in­ter­na­tional match here and he may take the Wolf­pack to other lo­cales in North Amer­ica or Europe.

The team will con­tinue to cover travel costs for Cham­pi­onship teams com­ing to Toronto, helped by its spon­sor­ship deal with Air Transat.

There is work to do to mon­e­tize the club’s suc­cess. De­spite the crowd num­bers, the club only has some 800 sea­son ticket-hold­ers and has given tick­ets away to boost at­ten­dance. It has also paid for its own TV pro­duc­tion costs in Toronto. But that was all part of the ini­tial plan.

Ar­gyle, a Toronto-based Aus­tralian en­tre­pre­neur, is plan­ning talks with city of­fi­cials to try and give Lam­port a facelift. The 2019 sched­ule will be re­leased in Novem­ber.

“It’s been a suc­cess­ful sea­son,” Ar­gyle said. “We didn’t achieve ev­ery­thing we set out (to do) but we did win the league ... We did build up the aware­ness of the club. And we’ll be big­ger, bet­ter, faster, stronger next year.”

NATHAN DENETTE THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

The Toronto Wolf­pack fell three points short of at­tain­ing Su­per League sta­tus with a 4-2 de­feat against the Lon­don Bron­cos in last Sun­day’s Mil­lion Pound Game.

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