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," said Argyle.
"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.
Leutele, who scored 30 tries in 128 appearances for Cronulla, helped the Sharks to a 14-12 win over the Melbourne Storm in the 2016 NRL Grand Final before 83,625 spectators at Sydney's ANZ Stadium.
And the Australian-born Samoan centre became part of club lore when he made a game-saving tackle on Marika Koroibete in the dying seconds.
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.
One British report linked former Leeds Rhinos coach Brian McDermott, fired in July midway through a season that saw the reigning Super League champions have to fight for their place in the top-flight, to Toronto. McDermott won four Grand Finals, two Challenge Cups and a World Club Challenge in eight years with Leeds.
A change in coach would seem unwarranted given Paul Rowley has led the team to a 50-8-2 record in competitive play over the club's two-year history, topping both the third-tier League 1 and the Betfred Championship.
"We've had no discussions with any other coaches," said Argyle.
"I'm not sure where those rumours come from," he added.
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 American or Europe early in the season while the weather is poor here.
"Anything that's got a direct flight from Manchester would be on the list," he said.
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 face-lift. 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."
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press