Toronto Wolfpack Withdraw from 2020 Super League Season; Full Conversation with Bob Hunter

The world was turned upside down for Toronto Wolfpack players, staff and fans on Monday morning when it was announced that the team would be withdrawing from Super League’s 2020 restart.

Toronto Wolfpack can confirm that the club has informed both Super League Europe (SLE) and the Rugby Football League (RFL) that the team will not be restarting the campaign as scheduled on August 2nd. The Wolfpack will not participate in the conclusion of the 2020 Betfred Super League season, or in the remainder of the 2020 Coral Challenge Cup. This decision has not been taken lightly, and in consideration of a range of factors specific to the club as the only transatlantic team in the league.

Citing complications with Visas for overseas players due to the Covid-19 pandemic and financial strain on owner David Argyle because of a closed door season and loss of revenue from cancelling their home schedule, the team decided it was best to end their 2019 season early.

There are no questions about the funds that Argyle has poured in to the team through its three years of existence. From other conversations I’ve had today, the situation was described in a fairly straight-forward manner: It doesn’t matter how much money you have. The cost that the upcoming Super League season will incur simply doesn’t make sense for one party to handle alone.

Toronto Wolfpack Chariman and CEO reiterated similar thoughts prior to our interview on Monday afternoon. The full discussion is below.

Defend the Den: Bob, thank you for taking the time on an understandably hectic day. Considering everything that’s happened, can you walk me through the last 48-72 hours?

Bob Hunter: How we came to the conclusion we did, was that David was seeking external investment partners. And he had been going down the line so that we would have that help. That consummated in the last two-to-three weeks. The transactions took longer and longer than it was supposed to, and that’s what was supposed to fund June’s payroll, which is supposed to be paid the first of July. That did not happen. That transaction did not go through. With all of the other bills we had to pay and payroll looming, we just decided that we couldn’t proceed with an August start. And because of our costs over there (U.K.) and zero revenue over here, it was just becoming too much.

DtD: Was the decision to withdraw from the 2020 Super League season always looming over this, or was it a painful conclusion that the club came to?

BH: Well, we’ve been discussing it for two-to-three weeks. And again, Super League and the RFL were very supportive and understanding in listening to our concerns. We were confident that this transaction was going to happen, so we had committed to playing in Super League as early as last week, assuring them that we’ll be good. Guys will be back in training on Monday and testing. As I say, this transaction did not go through, and David could not fund it himself.

DtD: It has been reported that there were multiple missed payments. Am I right in understanding that you’re saying it’s just the one missed payment at the beginning of July.

BH: Again, today, he committed to fixing it, but they have not been paid for the month of June which would typically be in their bank accounts on the first of July. We have been, on two or three occasions in the last six or eight months, we’ve missed our payroll date, but they’ve always been paid.

DtD: Before the announcement this morning, what was the status of the government’s assistance with players who were on expiring Visas?

BH: This is when the discussions started was, if we’re going to lose seven guys, and not just because they’re among our best guys, what kind of squad can we field? We knew we still had to pay them, so all of the sudden the top seven guys on your payroll are now going back and sitting at home, getting 55-percent of their wages. Now we have to fill those spots, and we were already light on our bench with 22 or 23 players under contract. In a very condensed schedule now, because they’re trying to get as many games in as possible now, we had many conversations about player welfare and the ability of these guys to, I’ll call it, survive. And it would be tough. Very tough playing. Now the one thing I will say is that the RFL pushed the Home Office, and at the 23rd hour they suggested that would be taken care of. That did get fixed at the end even though a couple of our players had already left.

DtD: With the uncertainty surrounding the Championship and League 1, what other solutions were explored in terms of replacement players?

BH: Because Championship is not playing as of yet, and are not going to play behind closed door stadiums, we assumed that we were going to get 10 to 12 guys. Either from other teams who were Super League players but not starters, or players from the Championship. So we were working to fill that roster.

DtD: The release from Super League this morning obviously outlined what’s going on with the club, but the last line stood out to a lot of people: ‘A discussion around the longer-term consequences and the future of the Wolfpack in Super League will commence shortly.’ Do you have any indication of what the ramifications are for this decision going forward and what the status of the 2021 season would be?

BH: At this point in time, no. We’ve made it clear to both Super League and the RFL that, naturally, we’d love to stay in Super League, but we recognize that there will be consequences for our actions. Ideal situation is we stay in Super League and we compete in 2021. We could get demoted, and the worst case is that they tell us they don’t want us to play anymore. I’m hoping that’s not the case.

DtD: There have been a handful of re-signings over the past few weeks, as well as a few reported agreements with outside players. How does this impact those situations?

BH: Again, in the call today with David and Brian McDermott, we encouraged them to go and get a team if they can. It’s a little late but teams are always looking for specific type players, so if you can go and get on a team for the balance of the season, go for it. There will be no limitations, in fact we are probably in breach of their contracts, so we don’t have any rights to not let them. Some guys will pick up with clubs and they’ll be being paid by us and that club. So all the better for them. Players who are under contract to us in 2021 will be individual discussions that happen once we find out what’s happening with us and where we’re playing. We understand that we have obligations.

DtD: Finally, this is something that began to make the rounds yesterday, but can you confirm that Martin Vickers is no longer with the team?

BH: That is not correct. Martin decided to resign as a director of the UK company but is still a full-time employee with us. And I’ve talked to him 15 times today already. He just decided that he was going to resign from being a director on behalf of the club, so I was fine with that. We were caught off guard because Martin sent that on Sunday morning, and someone must have seen it or gotten a hold of it because it came out as a little bit of a media issue yesterday. Martin is still our guy and I, jokingly, won’t let him resign.

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