Toronto Wolfpack: Jon Wilkin concerned for former team-mates

Jon Wilkin is concerned the struggles of some of his former Toronto Wolfpack team-mates have been overlooked in the aftermath of the decision not to allow the Canadian club back into Super League next year.

The Canadian club’s hopes of re-joining in 2021 were ended on Monday by a vote of the Super League board which went 8-4 against the Wolfpack with one abstention, rejecting the revised business plan presented by prospective new owner Carlo LiVolsi.

His Wolf Grooming group had previously agreed a deal with the GMB, the union which represents rugby league players, to pay the squad’s salaries in full for this year if Toronto were allowed to return to the competition next year.

But there is now more uncertainty for the beleaguered members of the squad who have gone months without being paid, particularly those who have yet to find new clubs, and Wilkin highlighted their plight when he appeared as a guest on the Golden Point Podcast.

“There is a player in the team at the minute who has pretty much borrowed all of the money he can, is getting food tokens for food and he was being paid £20,000 a year – he’s not a professional footballer, he’s not on millions of pounds a year,” Wilkin told Sky Sports.

“We’ve got another player who is delivering dog food for a living; I’ve got a player who’s living in a camper van because he can’t afford his rent; we’ve got a guy who is now on the south coast doing surf lessons to make ends meet.

“It’s not been received well by the players, but I understand the game’s decision.”

Although disappointed to see Super League’s North American adventure come to a premature end, Wilkin understood why the vote went against Toronto in relation to some facets of the business plan which the board believed were unrealistic.

However, the back row believes it may have been different had Super League games actually been played in Toronto – all of the Wolfpack’s games in 2020 prior to lockdown were played in the UK – and those involved had experienced game-day at Lamport Stadium like he did after joining the club in 2019.

“Is it a surprise decision? No, I don’t think it was,” Wilkin said. “If you read between the lines, the language used was relatively negative about the application.

“Was I disappointed? Yes, but for two reasons: One, selfishly, they owe me money and I’d have got that if they’d have gone back in…but secondly I thought it was a crossroads for the game to some extent.

Super League hadn’t been out to Toronto. That’s the biggest frustration about it and had it got out there and games been played in Canada, I think the decision would have been different.

Jon Wilkin

“Super League hadn’t been out to Toronto. That’s the biggest frustration about it and had it got out there and games been played in Canada, I think the decision would have been different.

“We had the opportunity to get rugby league in front of a different audience, I felt.”

There is still hope for rugby league’s expansion into North America, with Wolfpack founder Eric Perez leading Ottawa Aces’ entry into League One in 2021 and plans in place for a New York club to join the following year.

But Wilkin questioned what the sport’s overall growth plan is, citing the example of how the NRL backed Melbourne Storm, recently crowned champions in Australia for the fourth time, when they joined the competition in 1999 as one to learn from.

“For me, as soon as you let them [Toronto] in as a club you’ve got to support them at least for a little while and respect that investment,” Wilkin said.

“A bit of how Toronto behaved fed into the decision they got, but that wasn’t my experience of the club under [head coach] Brian McDermott in a much more professional environment.

“I really understand the game’s perspective on it, and I don’t want to say I just see it all from Toronto’s side.”

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