Toronto rugby league team withdraws from Europe’s top league

TORONTO (AP) — The Canadian rugby league team of New Zealand star Sonny Bill Williams withdrew from the Super League midway through its first season in Europe’s top-tier competition on Monday, citing “overwhelming financial challenges” caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Toronto Wolfpack said the decision was taken because of a “range of factors specific to the club as the only transatlantic team in the league.”

They included reduced revenue from tickets, sponsorship, merchandise and game-day business following the loss of all 11 of the team’s home games during the shutdown of the league since March.

“The Wolfpack would be left covering significant additional costs simply to complete a season of games in the U.K. including COVID testing, stadium rentals, medical costs and player pay increases to align with the rest of the league,” the club said.

The league is scheduled to restart on Aug. 2 and organizers said they were “very disappointed” to learn of the Wolfpack’s decision.

“Super League Europe and the RFL have been in regular dialogue with the Wolfpack over the past weeks and months regarding the club’s ability to take part in the competition,” read a statement from Super League, “and firm assurances had been received as recently as last Thursday.

“The club’s decision is especially disappointing given the imminent restart of the season.”

Williams, the former All Black, is in his first season with the team, which lost its first six matches in Super League before the suspension.

British newspaper The Mirror reported last week that the Wolfpack’s seven overseas players — including Williams — have been on visas limiting them to six months a year in Britain, which has now expired because of the pandemic.

Toronto Wolfpack was established in 2017, beginning in English rugby league’s third tier. The team has won two promotions in three years.

Toronto said it “fully intends” to field a team in the 2021 season.

The league said a discussion “around the longer-term consequences and the future of the Wolfpack in Super League” will take place soon.

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