Super League: Toronto Wolfpack vs St Helens talking points
Watch promoted Toronto Wolfpack against Super League champions St Helens on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Arena and Mix from 6pm
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 29/02/20 7:36pm
We take a look at what is being said as Super League newcomers Toronto prepare to tackle champions St Helens on Saturday, live on Sky Sports...
Wilkin playing through pain barrier
Prior to last week's game against Warrington Wolves, Toronto were facing up to being without Jon Wilkin for an extended spell as he was due to undergo surgery on a long-standing knee injury.
But, much to the surprise of everyone including head coach Brian McDermott, the 36-year-old loose forward arrived at the Halliwell Jones Stadium for the match and declared himself able to play, featuring for the full 80 minutes and making 39 tackles with a 95 per cent success rate.
Wilkin is set to feature at the same venue on Saturday for the Wolfpack's "home" clash with his former club St Helens, who he made over 400 appearances for between 2002 and 2018, despite the discomfort caused by bones floating around in his knee.
His efforts did not help Toronto avoid a 32-22 defeat, but McDermott paid tribute to Wilkin for opting to delay his operation to help the Canadian outfit as they go hunting for their first win in Super League against the reigning champions.
"We don't sing and dance about it enough because if you were in America or Canada and someone does what Jon Wilkin did what he did last week, it would make every news bulletin," McDermott said.
"He's desperate to play [against St Helens]. He's also very aware that we're in a situation where we haven't won a game yet and he wants to get the wheel turning for us.
"Credit to him. He's putting the club before his own health and his own welfare. It's a definition of commitment.
"As it stands, he's not going to have the operation for the next two or three weeks to see how far he can get with it until his knee gives way."
Woolf alert to dangers
St Helens return to Super League action on Saturday after facing Sydney Roosters in the World Club Challenge, where the NRL champions proved too strong and emerged 20-12 winners after the hosts had taken the lead through a converted try from Luke Thompson.
The visitors have already had one unhappy experience at the Halliwell Jones Stadium this year, having suffered a 19-0 defeat against Warrington Wolves in Round 2, and are naturally eager to avoid becoming Toronto's first Super League scalp.
Head coach Kristian Woolf was encouraged by his team's display against the Roosters despite the defeat, while the 32-18 victory away to an imposing Hull FC team in their previous league outing ensured they are still among the early front-runners.
Nevertheless, the Australian is wary of the dangers posed by Toronto, on a team level as well as the individuals he cited like Sonny Bill Williams, Wilkin, Ricky Leutele and Gareth O'Brien.
"They're getting better every week and that's to be expected as they get used to the level of competition coming out of the Championship, and they've got some really class players as well," Woolf told SaintsTV.
"They've got some real strike across the board and they're playing a style of footy which is a bit attack from both ends and shift play coming from kick-offs.
🔴⚪ SAINTS NAME 21 MAN SQUAD 🔴⚪@ReganGrace5 is recalled to the Saints' 21 man squad for the clash with @SuperLeague newcomers @TOwolfpack after missing the World Club Challenge due to the concussion protocol. 🏃🏿♂️@jackashworthx also returns! 👇https://t.co/5ucfJYtWgJ— St.Helens R.F.C. (@Saints1890) February 27, 2020
"They're willing to offload and willing to kick, so that makes them dangerous. They're willing to chance their hand and we're going to have to be very good defensively."
Woolf welcomes winger Regan Grace back into his squad in place of centre Mark Percival, who has recently undergone surgery. Forward Jack Ashworth is back in the 21-man squad as well after scoring for the reserves against Wigan Warriors last week.
McDermott sees steady progress
Toronto's first month in Super League has not been the easiest time for the club on or off the field, but head coach McDermott has done his utmost to keep everything in perspective.
The 49-year-old former London Broncos and Leeds Rhinos boss, who took over at the Canadian side last year, has taken solace in the gradual improvements his side have shown each week, despite the Wolfpack not yet having a win to their name after earning promotion from the Championship.
The arrivals of maverick back Tony Gigot, on a trial basis, and loan duo Jack Wells and Ben Kilner have added some depth to the squad and McDermott is satisfied with the progress he believes Toronto are making.
"We are a group that has been thrown together, the overseas boys were in Australia until January and the club as a whole is still three years old," McDermott said.
"Getting into Super League, we have played 12 months in the Championship and getting used to that so it will take a few rounds just to think quick enough. Warrington certainly exploited that down the short side in the first 10-15 minutes.
"We haven't died wondering this year, but I'd rather learn those lessons early. Where we are at the moment, weirdly, it's not about winning and losing for us.
"Whatever we do, it has to be sustainable. As long as we keep building our game week in and week out, that's sustainable."
However, the Wolfpack are set to be without off-season signing Brad Singleton for around four months after the ex-Leeds forward snapped a ligament in his knee which will require surgery.
Wolfie set to run with the 'Pack
Saturday's match was originally due to be played at Allianz Park, home of London-based rugby union club Saracens, but ended up being switched to Warrington after that agreement fell through.
Not only are the Wolves playing host to the match, though, they have also agreed to lend their mascot Wolfie to Toronto for the clash with one of their bitterest rivals, St Helens.
So that will be Wolfie cheering on the Wolfpack against Woolf's team.