Hull KR chairman slams Toronto withdrawal ahead of crunch meeting on Wolfpack future

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Hull Kingston Rovers chairman Neil Hudgell says Toronto Wolfpack’s withdrawal from Super League less than two weeks before the season restart is “inexcusable”.

Hudgell has also questioned the validity of the club’s much discussed visa issues and says recent events will add scepticism to the sport’s attempts to expand into North America, with further clubs planned in Ottawa and New York.

The Robins boss says Toronto’s recruitment of Sonny Bill Williams – at a reported cost greater than Rovers’ entire squad – highlights an ill-advised approach that would always leave the Wolfpack vulnerable.

Hudgell said: “I think the timing of this is absolutely diabolical. To drop this on the competition 12 days ahead of the season relaunch is inexcusable.

“We are all feeling the pain. They have challenges for sure, but they say they have a billionaire owner and have recruited a player whose salary is one and a half times our cap spend alone.

“Yes, that happened pre pandemic but served to illustrate the supposed spending power of the club. It also illustrated a bizarre ‘all eggs in one basket’ approach to recruitment that would expose the club even in the best of times. Even accounting for the pandemic how can that financial firepower have evaporated so rapidly?

“Here at Hull KR we did not sign high profile players during lockdown. They did. We have no intention of courting high profile players in the next twelve months. They purportedly have.

“We have always paid players on time. They pay them, it seems, on an as-and-when basis. We have to exercise significant financial prudence.

“The Wolfpack were asked a series of searching questions by Super League last week – and in an attempt to close the stable door after the horse has bolted, the club has been asked many searching questions by Super League over the past two years.

“Their statement this week is at odds with some of the answers supplied in that meeting. A meeting David Argyle did not take part in. Instead all his talking has been done through the media.

“Loan players were offered at donor club expense to them to complete a season with no jeopardy. The visa issue strikes me as a convenient smokescreen. Only last week the Wolfpack were categorical on being questioned that they did not need financial support.”

Toronto do not receive any central distribution of the sport’s television money – an issue owner Argyle wants to change – but Hudgell says that was their choice when entering the British competitions.

Hudgell said: “They came into the competition knowing the rules full well. They would not qualify for a distribution, at any stage. ‘Self funding in perpetuity’ was the phrase used.

“These were the terms the RFL negotiated with them. Not Super League. It was a choice the Wolfpack made when they entered rugby league. To cry wolf, pardon the pun, at this stage is completely inappropriate.

“David Argyle will recall the first pitch he made to the clubs at which he said they needed no distribution at any time, one of the reasons for that being that they where confident of picking up a lucrative North American TV deal. Clearly, that has not transpired.”

Hudgell also insists that Super League as an organisation are not responsible for the events that have unfolded.

He added: “No blame can be placed at the door of Super League for the current embarrassment. Super League has consistently applied a cautious, questioning yet supportive approach to the club.

“Prior to almost entering into the competition the year before the Wolfpack were asked to provide the necessary assurances of financial sustainability. These, and many other questions were repeated prior to promotion last year. On both occasions, it was like extracting teeth, while the clock was it seems to me deliberately ran down. The competition had no choice but to let them in.

“We had all heard the long-standing rumours of non-payment of suppliers and players, as well as to other clubs, but where powerless to act. Promotion was and remains in the gift of the RFL. Admission into our competitions here in the UK remains the gift of the RFL. It is for the governing body to dish out any appropriate sanction.

“I feel very sorry for the passionate fan base they have built up. That said it isn’t me that has let them down, and any owner going into this should see it through to the finish line.

“What it has done is add an extra layer of suspicion and scepticism over the North American model. And laid bare once again the weakness in our game of building strategy around sole ownership models in places and with people we simply know too little about.

“There are some wonderful clubs in the rugby family who I am sure would jump at the opportunity of promotion to Super League at the right time.

“In my opinion – and I am an expansionist, albeit only based on solid foundations in the heartlands – what we need to be doing now is planning forward for an enhanced competition, over the next two to three years, with the certainty of a new TV arrangement and hopefully, with new and substantial, funding and expertise from external investment into Super League.

“Although quite what investors and broadcasters make of all this at the moment I shudder to think.”

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