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What Toronto’s withdrawal means for Super League

As Super League nears its resumption following a lengthy break due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s one side who won’t be returning to the competition, newly promoted Toronto Wolfpack. The Canadian outfit have withdrawn from the remainder of the 2020 season, throwing the credibility of this year’s competition into doubt.

Why have Toronto withdrawn?

The news of Toronto’s withdrawal appeared to come out of the blue, having been included in the revised fixture list last week.

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The club cited “overwhelming financial challenges” amidst the coronavirus crisis as their reason for withdrawing from the remainder of the 2020 Super League season. However the Wolfpack did also state their intention to field a team in the 2021 season, after confirmation promotion and relegation would be scrapped for the current campaign.

Having already played the opening six matches of the season away from home, Toronto faced the prospect of completing the remainder of the 2020 season on their travels. They were also faced with difficult logistical and operational challenges which the club feel has forced them to withdraw from the 2020 season.

Additionally, completing the season based entirely in the UK would have meant players would have been away from their families for another few months creating the issue of homesickness.

As seen by the New Zealand Warriors in the NRL, being away from family can have a detrimental impact on a team who have sacked their coach, since the resumption of the season, and now face several selection issues as players begin to return home.

The team made an admirable sacrifice by remaining in Australia for such a long period of time, but I think in hindsight, everyone in the rugby league community would have respected their decision, should they have returned to New Zealand, given how draining it has been for players both mentally and emotionally and is something we wouldn’t want to see happen to Toronto.

How have Super League responded?

Toronto’s decision to withdraw from the competition, so close to the season restart, has not gone down well with Super League and the RFL.

Super League released their own statement in response to Toronto’s withdrawal and stated that they were “very disappointed” by the Canadian side’s decision to pull out of the competition, particularly given the governing body has been in regular contact with the Wolfpack over the past weeks and months.

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In fact, Super League revealed in their statement, that Toronto had given them firm assurances they would be able to complete the season as recently as Thursday, July 16th, the day the new fixtures were released.

However, as mentioned above, Super League chairman Robert Elstone does appreciate the financial, logistical and operational pressures that the club face, but will nonetheless be disappointed the club made this decision with the season due to resume in less than a fortnight.

What does this mean for Toronto’s future?

Whilst Toronto have stated their desire to field a team for the 2021 season, their withdrawal from the current campaign does raise question marks about the club’s future in Super League.

They seemed to be favourites for relegation prior to the season being halted having lost their opening six matches of the Super League season, albeit playing all of their matches away from home. They also scored the fewest points and conceded the most tries of any side in the competition.

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That said, the RFL could do more to support the club financially. Toronto received no central funding and were due to pay for the travel of their opponents for the club’s home matches, an agreement that may need amending next season given their withdrawal from the current season.

However, Elstone suggested the club could be sanctioned for failing to complete the 2020 season and it appears that Super League will hold discussions about the Canadian sides long-term future in the competition ahead of the 2021 season.

How does this affect the 2020 Super League season?

Personally, I think Toronto’s withdrawal undermines the credibility of the 2020 Super League season.

Prior to the beginning of the campaign, the newly promoted side created a buzz around the sport in being the only transatlantic sports team in the world, as well as completing the blockbuster signing of Sonny Bill Williams.

Toronto were set to be Super League’s unknown entity in 2020. Nobody knew if the club would be able to mount a push for the play-offs or be straggling at the lower end of the table, particularly given their unique schedule of home and away matches.

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Thus, losing them with so much of the season still left to play doesn’t reflect well on the sport and lessens the achievement of winning the competition. As that trip to Canada, for each of the 11 remaining sides in the league, would have been a real test on the players before, during and after that particular fixture given the amount of travelling involved.

However, it could be argued that as the club were bottom of the table prior to the league’s suspension, failing to collect a single point from their opening six matches, and having played all of their matches on the road, losing Toronto for the remainder of the season doesn’t impact on the credibility of the league too much.

Yet, I think it would be unfair to write them off after six matches of the season. It’s safe to assume that Toronto would have been a much stronger force on home soil and therefore it’s impossible to judge where exactly in the table the club would have finished.

Nobody comes out of this a winner

Ultimately, the withdrawal of any club from the competition would have left a black mark against the 2020 Super League season, but losing Toronto is particularly bad news for the sport.

The club have always expressed their desire to grow the sport in North America and have created a lot of positive headlines for the game since their arrival in the sport back in 2017.

Thus, the Wolfpack’s future in the sport will now be cast into doubt, Super League and the RFL will be criticised for failing to financially support the club enough to allow them to complete the 2020 season and the season loses credibility just weeks before resuming.

However, whilst Toronto’s withdrawal is certainly a negative for Super League, we can only hope the league’s resumption reminds us of all the positive aspects the competition has to offer in an extremely difficult 2020 campaign for those involved in the sport.

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