Jon Wilkin says rugby league should rally around troubled Toronto Wolfpack instead of abandoning them.
The Canadian club’s future in the sport will start to be discussed at a Super League board meeting on Thursday after they withdrew from this year’s competition following financial, visa and logistical issues.
Former St Helens and England back rower Wilkin helped the Wolfpack win promotion in 2019, and insists the club has not been as “chaotic” as some have made out.
He wants to see owner David Argyle shown some support for his significant investment over the last four years but knows they face an uncertain future.
Wilkin said: “I think the club could survive and it could be like the NRL where they put an arm round New Zealand Warriors because they see the value they could bring. I hope the clubs seek to protect something that could bring a new angle to things, but that being said, history tells me that might not happen.
“I’m not saying people are happy about what’s happened but there’s a told-you-so mentality and it’s quite easy to write a doom and gloom story that the club was a joke from the start.
“I don’t really subscribe to the negativity surrounding it – my experience has been enjoyable, it’s a great club to be part of with a young, energetic, different dynamic.
“Before I arrived I was concerned that there was a slightly reckless culture, but my experience there with Brian McDermott was exceptional.
“We had one issue with pay around Christmas the first year I was there and aside from that, I didn’t think it was as chaotic as some have made out. It’s a new club dealing with a tricky visa situation, no furlough help, no TV distribution and no home games.
“I think they made some shambolic recruitment when they started, they under-resourced the business end of the club and front ended all of the money on players.
“It’s been disorganised at times but we’ve got clubs with 125 years of history that aren’t organised – to expect one in exceptional circumstances to have all its ducks lined in a row after four years is mad.”
Wilkin says owner Argyle was “emotional, upset and apologetic” when he fronted players on a Zoom call on Monday – but wants the sport to show the Australian mining magnet some loyalty.
Wilkin – who doesn’t expect to play for the Wolfpack again as he waits for double knee surgery – added: “David has put around £10million of his own money into this.
“He has been liquidating assets to pay club bills – if that’s not commitment to the cause I don’t know what is.
“I think we have to be really respectful of somebody who has put the level of personal finance into rugby league that David has, rather than be critical and say how unorganised it was.
“All owners of clubs in the sport – Eamonn McManus, Simon Moran, Ian Lenagan – bankroll the sport when things aren’t going well and deserve a huge amount of credit for showing faith into the game.
“I signed for Toronto basically because of the opportunity to travel, see Canada and because of the financial offer – but when I got out there it kind of blew my mind.
“What has upset me is that Super League clubs haven’t had the opportunity to get out there.
“I think if they saw first hand the experience that Canadians and Toronto put on then it could be a really pivotal moment for the game and they’d see the value in the franchise.
“We need to decide whether it’s support each other or every man for himself.”