Super League needs New York and Barcelona, not just north of England teams, claims Brian McDermott as Toronto end Featherstone Rovers’ promotion dream

Captain Josh McCrone of the Toronto Wolfpack lifts the Betfred Championship Trophy. Picture by Vaughn Ridley/
Captain Josh McCrone of the Toronto Wolfpack lifts the Betfred Championship Trophy. Picture by Vaughn Ridley/
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Toronto Wolfpack will keep 90 per cent of the players that earned the fledgling club promotion from the Championship for their assault on Super League, says director of rugby Brian Noble.

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Toronto coach Brian McDermott.

Toronto coach Brian McDermott.

The Wolfpack spent heavily on recruitment last winter, bringing in the likes of Ricky Leutele and Jon Wilkin, after losing out to London Broncos in the 2018 Million Pound Game.

And the investment paid off with a 24-6 victory over Featherstone Rovers in Saturday’s Grand Final in Ontario.

It meant the club founded by Eric Perez in 2016 with a five-year plan to reach the top flight achieved its target with two years to spare.

“We’re keeping 90 per cent of this team because I think there’s 20 per cent improvement in them,” said Noble, who put together the initial Toronto team and gradually added to it.

“We know we need to be a little bit faster and a little bit stronger but I think the character will get them through a lot of games next year.

“Clearly we need to add so there will be three or four players to come in.”

The Wolfpack have been keeping a close eye on the Rugby World Cup and have been linked with an audacious move for New Zealand centre Sonny Bill Williams.

Head coach Brian McDermott, the former Leeds Rhinos boss, meanwhile, re-iterated his plea for further expansion in Super League, arguing the presence of big cities is the only way to attract major investment and a lucrative television deal.

“In five years’ time if the Challenge Cup and Grand Finals are contested by teams from the north of England, it’s won’t work, it’s never going to get investment,” he said.

“You’ve got to have names such as London, Toronto, Toulouse, Barcelona and New York.

“I’m not really surprised with some of the anti-Toronto mentality from the north of England but I’m astounded there are so many question marks about whether we should or shouldn’t be in, I’m astounded that people don’t have the vision. Can you honestly tell me that Super League has progressed in any sort of fashion since 1996?

“Other sports like Premiership soccer, cricket, rugby union and tennis have all grown dramatically and we haven’t and I am sure it’s got to do with the fact that small towns in the north west of England and a couple of teams from Yorkshire have only ever won the Grand Final.”

The Wolfpack needed to overturn a 6-4 interval deficit, after the visitors took the lead on 27 minutes when Wolfpack winger Liam Kay failed to clear the danger caused by Dane Chisholm’s grubber kick and centre Alex Sutcliffe pounced on the loose ball.

Chisholm added the conversion to make it 6-0 but Toronto hit back four minutes later through skipper Josh McCrone, who took Andy Ackers’s pass close to the line to force his way over.

Gareth O’Brien was wide with the goalkick to leave his side trailing 6-4 at the break but McDermott’s interval pep talk clearly did the trick.

O’Brien was held up over the line and Wilkin was hauled down just short as the home side turned up the pressure, which paid off when substitute Blake Wallace forced his way over on 56 minutes to give them the lead for the first time before supplying a try-scoring pass for second rower Bodene Thompson.

O’Brien converted both tries to open up a 10-point lead and stand-off Joe Mellor made sure when he jinked his way through a tiring Featherstone defence 11 minutes from time.

Wallace added the conversion and kicked a last-minute penalty to wrap up the scoring.

Former St Helens forward James Graham will captain England in the World Cup Nines in Sydney later this month.

The St George Illawarra prop is one of six NRL-based players in the 16-strong squad, with the rest coming from Super League.

England squad: J Graham (capt), G Widdop (both St George Illawarra) T Burgess (South Sydney), D Clark, J Hughes (both Warrington), J Connor (Hull FC), R Hall (Sydney Roosters), A Handley (Leeds), R Lyne (Wakefield), J McGillvary (Huddersfield), E Whitehead, R Sutton (both Canberra), S Tomkins (Catalans Dragons), J Trueman, L Watts (both Castleford), G Williams (Wigan).