With the announcement this week of Matty Russell’s arrival at the club from Warrington, Toronto Wolfpack finalised their fourth high-profile signing in just under two months as they mount a serious charge towards Super League.
Currently sitting top of the Betfred Championship in their second season in the RFL system, the Canadians are viewed as certainties to be in the Middle 8s and the signing of Scotland international Russell will give the team potency and experience on both flanks with Ireland’s RLWC winger Liam Kay currently the first choice on the left hand side.
Along with the recent recruits of Gareth O’Brien, Chase Stanley and Darcy Lussick, Russell’s arrival indicates the Wolfpack’s ability to attract top-tier talent to join their project and what is also apparent is that Toronto are set on building a squad to compete with the Super League clubs they will be hoping to face shortly. What Paul Rowley and Brian Noble, head coach and head of rugby respectively, will be wanting to ensure is that they don’t comprehensively beat Championship opposition only to struggle against top-tier opponents and the squad they are assembling gives clear sight of their preparations to avoid it.
Such is their desire to do so, they have ruthlessly released players who aren’t deemed good enough – see Quentin Lalalu-Togagae and Jake Butler-Fleming – in order to free up squad space and money in order to have a competitive group pushing for playing shirts. That approach is clearly working as, despite having played zero home games thus far, they are sitting at the top of the table and still have three more matches – including a Challenge Cup tie at Warrington – before playing at their home ground, Lamport Stadium. It, therefore, wouldn’t be surprising – arguably it is expected – to see Toronto streaking clear of the chasing pack.
Their supremacy at the top of the table hasn’t come without difficulty and, at times, they have scraped through against part-time opponents; 18-17 at Rochdale and an 8-8 draw with Barrow before a four point victory against the same opponents in the Challenge Cup. That, however, shouldn’t be occurring once the team play at Lamport which, following this weekend’s game against Swinton in Markham, the Warrington cup tie and their Magic Weekend clash with Toulouse, will be their base for the final eight games of their regular season.
Now teams are free to approach players with contracts expiring at the end of this season, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Wolfpack linked with some even bigger names than they have already been recruiting. No doubt they will be looking at some of Super League’s biggest clubs’ players as potential recruits; if they continue their performances this season, expect to see them in the top flight next year with the top quality players to match.