WIGAN, England — The depleted Toronto Wolfpack suffered their third straight Super League loss, beaten 32-10 by the Wigan Warriors on Thursday.
For the third consecutive week, the transatlantic rugby league team scored first but found itself trailing at halftime. Wigan (2-1-0) bent but did not break in the face of Toronto pressure and then turned the screw as the contest wore on.
The Wolfpack showed off some free-flowing attacks fuelled by offloads but could not take the upper hand. And Wigan came on strong, reeling off 22 straight points with Toronto (0-3-0)running out of resources.
"It's a funny one really to assess because I'm watching us play and I like how we play," said Toronto coach Brian McDermott. "I like what we do, I like our attitude and a couple of moments there there's a whole host of momentum against us, yet we seem to be able to get back in the game through a number of things. One of them being about playing for each other and showing up for each other. A bit of toughness and all that.
"We ended up ultimately losing the game, which just came down to one or two moments there," he added.
Tied 10-10, the game turned in the 58th minute after a kick by Toronto captain Josh McCrone went too long into the goal area. Australian Bevan French's quick restart set Jackson Hastings free and the Wigan playmaker found Joe Burgess, who raced the length of the field for a 16-10 lead with the conversion.
French's second try of the night in the 63rd minute and Liam Farrell's brace in the 75th and 78th minutes padded the Wigan lead.
Matty Russell and Bodene Thompson scored tries for Toronto. Blake Wallace booted a conversion.
Harry Smith also scored a try for Wigan. Zak Hardaker added three conversions and Farrell one.
It's been a tough start with the Wolfpack facing teams that finished second, third and fifth last season in the top tier.
"We're improving week in, week out," said Toronto fullback Gareth O'Brien. "We showed glimpses of what we can do in that game, we were in it for a large part of it. We'll come in on Monday and look at what we need to get better at and just work hard."
The Wolfpack were missing star signing Sonny Bill Williams, who is back in New Zealand for the birth of his fourth child. Toronto was also without the injured Darcy Lussick (hernia) and Joe Mellor (hand). New Zealand international Chase Stanley is still working on visa issues while Greg Worthington is on loan to Featherstone.
Veteran forward Jon Wilkin was a late scratch, with James Cunningham promoted off the bench to replace him. Gary Wheeler, the only Toronto player available, moved onto the Toronto interchange bench at DW Stadium.
Adding to the Wolfpack woes, Cunningham headed to the locker-room early in the first half with a hamstring issue. Toronto lost another man when Samoan international Willie Isa left forward Gadwin Springer reeling with a bone-jarring hit in the 48th minute. Springer failed a head injury assessment and did not return.
Toronto's Hakim Miloudi was sin-binned in the 75th minute for catching Wigan captain Sean O'Loughlin with a hand to the face. O'Loughlin, who had a clear run at the try-line, went down clutching his face.
"Credit to Toronto's side," said Wigan coach Adrian Lam. "They hung in there."
O'Brien, the 2019 player of the year in the second-tier Championship, reclaimed his role as fullback with Wallace moving into halfback alongside McCrone.
Hemmed in its own end to start the game, Toronto began to find its legs and threaten the Wigan goal-line. After a repeat set of six near the goal-line following a Wigan penalty for a high tackle, Russell gathered in a McCrone kick to the corner and wormed his way over for a try.
Wigan then laid siege to the Toronto goal-line with the 29-year-old Smith, in just his third appearance for the Warriors, eventually diving over the line in the 27th minute to tie it at 4-4.
An O'Brien handling error near the goal-line and ensuring Toronto penalty allowed Wigan to keep the pressure up and it paid off with a French try in the 33rd minute.
Wigan led 10-4 at the break.
Adam Sidlow crashed over from in-close on a penalty tap in the 47th minute after Wigan was called for offside. But video replay ruled the Toronto big man was unable to ground the ball.
It made no difference as Thompson scored two plays later, taking a pass from O'Brien who opened up the defence with a dummy pass. Wallace's conversion tied it at 10-10.
Facing salary cap issues, the Wolfpack have petitioned rugby league authorities for dispensation, arguing they are not eligible for some of the help other teams get because the Canadian side does not have an academy or development path.
So far, that has not produced anything although there is talk of offering Toronto two extra roster spot for Canadian under-21 talent that would not count against the cap.
Toronto, which lost its opening two Super League matches to Castleford (28-10) and Salford (24-16), plays next game Feb. 21 at Warrington.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 13, 2020.
The Canadian Press