Wolfpack coach Brian McDermott returns to Leeds to face former club

The Canadian Press

Toronto coach Brian McDermott faces his old club Thursday when the winless Wolfpack visit the Leeds Rhinos.

McDermott says the reunion is not a topic of discussion in his camp. Bouncing back from a poor performance in a 32-0 loss to defending champion St. Helens is Job. 1.

The latest defeat marked the first time in franchise history that the transatlantic rugby league team — now 0-5-0 — has been held scoreless.

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"We were awful in attack," said McDermott. "Nothing we did worked. And we looked toothless. Throughout the game, Saints just contained everything we threw at them. We just seemed to find ourselves just defending and defending and defending and defending a wave of a very emotional St. Helens who lost the World Club Challenge the week before (to the Sydney Roosters).

"You look at the scoreline, it was bad. But from one respect, it was quite an encouraging performance as we just didn't give up and once again showed some grit and determination," added McDermott.

Having said that, the former British Royal Marine paused and took stock.

"The coach of Toronto Wolfpack needs to be saying a little bit more than that," he acknowledged. "It's getting to the stage now where I need to be talking about some great attacking displays and some line-breaks and some tries scored, which equals a win.

"But I'm remaining positive and I'm focused on some of the good things that are happening."

McDermott has found himself dealing with a string of injuries and plenty of red tape as the top tier of English rugby league adapts to having a North American member. Some salary cap help isn't available to the Wolfpack, who don't yet have an academy, and securing change has been heavy lifting for McDermott and Martin Vickers, the team's U.K. general manager.

While the loss to St. Helens was perhaps a step back, it came against elite opposition. For McDermott, the frustration this season has been more off the field.

"It's the bureaucracy and the rules and the regulations . . . And trying to get players in, and moving the squad about and trying to create room in the salary cap. That is chewing up a hell of a lot of my time and Martin Vickers' time," he said. "It's not been easy, I can tell you." 

For example, there has been talk for weeks that Toronto may be allowed to get some salary cap help in the form of a young Canadian — expected to be former Wolfpack player Quinn Ngawati. But the move yet to get approval.

It doesn't get any easier against a Leeds team that has won three straight and stands fourth in the table at 3-1-0.

McDermott, who took over Leeds in 2011, was fired in July 2018 after a 162-97-6 run as coach that saw Leeds win four Grand Finals, two Challenge Cups, a League Leaders' Shield and a World Club Challenge.

At the time of his firing, however, injury-ravaged Leeds had lost seven straight in Super League play and nine of 12 matches in all competitions.

"For sure there's a story. It's a club I used to coach," McDermott said. "But it pales into insignificance (compared to) where we are at the moment. I'm just focusing so much on where we are."

Rhinos forward Adam Cuthbertson says Leeds fans should show their appreciation for McDermott.

"What he did for this club was absolutely unreal," Cuthbertson told the Yorkshire Post. "He led the club to many Grand Finals wins and wins at Wembley and he did it for a number of years, consistently. He deserves a warm welcome coming home.”

McDermott has already been back to Emerald Headingley Stadium this season. The Wolfpack made their Super League debut there Feb. 2, losing 28-10 to Castleford Tigers as part of a doubleheader.

The losses have not stopped for Toronto, who landed in the deep end of the Super League by having to play the top five finishers from last season to start. Leeds finished eighth in 2019 at 12-17-0.

Toronto remains without the injured Darcy Lussick (hernia), James Cunningham (hamstring), Brad Singleton (knee) and Joe Mellor (hand).

Forward Jon Wilkin continues to start despite needing surgery to clean out his knee.

New Zealand international Chase Stanley could play after finally sorting out the visa issue that kept him outside of the country until Monday.

"He's turned up in great shape," McDermott said of the 30-year-old back.

The other good news for McDermott is that New Zealand forward Bodene Thompson escaped further punishment for his red card against St. Helens for shoulder contact to the head in a gang tackle.

Thompson and Toronto teammate Anthony Mullally are both one appearance from 200 in their careers.

Toronto beat Leeds 17-16 in their only other meeting, a playoff encounter in September 2018 when Paul Rowley was coaching the Wolfpack.

 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2020.

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Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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