Usually Wolves go hunting in packs, but could a squad of just 23 players see newly-promoted Toronto struggle in their first Super League season?
The world’s first transatlantic club enter the top flight boasting one of the biggest sporting names on the planet. The world-record signing of Sonny-Bill Williams has made headlines everywhere, and it was a statement of intent from the Canadian outfit.
However, since then things have gone somewhat quiet on the transfer front and their pre-season squad announcement has seen them name just 23 players. This has raised a few eyebrows and following the pre-season game against Castleford on Sunday, head coach Brian McDermott admitted they were close to breaking the salary cap because they have to pay ‘over the odds’ for their players.
What’s the reason for this? Well, despite Toronto seeming an attractive proposition, players who sign for the Wolfpack have to live in two different countries throughout the season, which is not easy for those with families, resulting in the club having to pay their key players extremely good money.
McDermott’s calls for salary cap dispensation were quickly waved away by the rugby league faithful, but could he have a point? Should Toronto suffer a few injuries in the first few weeks of the season they will be down to the bare bones, and without a reserve side to call upon and without dispensation on the cap, we could very quickly reach a scenario of them being unable to field a team.
Although they put in a good display to beat their future first round opponents Castleford at the weekend, it was a friendly and it is still early doors, we’re talking about how they will cope in the long run that is the concern here, and you have to fear for them. Toronto’s impact on Super League could be short-lived if we are not careful, because there is no question they are restricted and the current salary cap system does not help.
The capture of Sonny Bill and possible talks with further Rugby Union stars has arguably given British Rugby League more attention than it has had during the entire 2010s decade. However, that attention could be lost pretty soon because these squad issues are undoubtedly going to come to the fore. This is Rugby League, injuries happen, and although I hope the Wolfpack don’t pick up any, the chances are there will come a point in the season where they struggle for numbers.
Back to the cap and you could argue that if they are forced to pay ‘over the odds’ for players, then why splash a large chunk of their cap on the marquee addition of Williams? But their Super League status grants them marquee signings and how, when you have the opportunity, can you turn down the chance of Sonny Bill? They didn’t and now they have a small squad – the majority of which have been retained from last season’s Championship campaign.
When you strip it all back and look at what Brian McDermott has to work with, you can’t help but feel that Toronto will struggle. The increase in intensity and fitness from Championship to Super League may overwhelm what is already a dwindling squad. The club have not done themselves any favours enquiring about cap dispensation less than two weeks out from the season, when the problems must have been evident three months ago. So as they sit on the salary cap threshold with the smallest squad in Super League, have the Wolfpack bitten off more than they can chew? We will soon find out!