TORONTO – The Toronto Wolfpack, who have not played since March 11 due to a global pandemic, may not have New Zealand star Sonny Bill Williams and other marquee players when the game returns next month.
Williams and six other imports – Australia’s Josh McCron, Darcy Lucic and Blake Wallace, Australian-born Samoan International’s Ricky Lutel and New Zealand’s Chase Stanley and Bowden Thompson – have visas to allow them to play in England.
Six months are allowed for a visa in England for more than a year, no problem when the Transatlantic rugby league team spends some time in the Canadian season. But the epidemic is holding players back in England and the visa is set to expire at the end of the month.
The Super League and Toronto (0–6-0) are set to resume behind closed doors in England on August 2.
“We are still working with the Super League and the RFL (Rugby Football League) to see if there is any other solution,” said Bob Hunter, CEO and chairman of Wolfpack.
Hunter admitted that he doubted the visa issue could be resolved in a timely manner. This raises another question.
“If we don’t have seven foreign players, can we put together a quality team that can be competitive every week?” Hunter says.
It would look like Toronto’s record is a great mess with the entire squad so far in the first season of the top tier.
Since Wolfpack is owned by Canada, they require separate visas for foreign players employed by English clubs.
The seven players in question are key members of Toronto’s small 23-member roster, with rugby league teams dressing up 17 players, including 13 starters. The Super League looks to be in a concentrated season to get as much of the 2020 season as possible and injuries could be more common.
Wolfpack coach Brian McDermott says his team is against the pay cap because players willing to play outside of two continents will have to pay a premium to get players.
Toronto has had visa issues with Lucic and Stanley at various times in the past, stuck abroad waiting for the necessary paperwork to return to England.
Wolfpack is already facing a lot of problems. Travel and other epidemic restrictions probably mean the team will play less if they play a game in Toronto this year – which means missing out on Lamport Stadium gates and other earnings.
Wolfpack does not even get a part of the TV deal with British broadcaster Sky under his current contract with the Super League.
No one has access to the the 1 million (৩ 2.3 million) emergency loan that the British government gave to the Rugby Football League during the epidemic because the team was Canadian-owned.
Toronto will play Hull Kingston Rovers on August 2, hitting a triple-header at the announced English venue. The other games are against St. Helens Catalans Dragons and Leeds Rhinos against Huddersfield Giants.
The Super League has yet to announce the rest of its reconstruction schedule