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Post-game tussle with Leigh Centurions doesn't help Wolfpack reputation


TORONTO — The Toronto Wolfpack return home riding a 11-game win streak in England's second-tier Betfred Championship.

But rugby league's first transatlantic team is also carrying a reputation as a squad long on talent but short on discipline and composure.

The latest flashpoint was a melee between coaches following Toronto's 28-26 comeback win Saturday over the Leigh Centurions in Blackpool, England.

"Whether you win or you lose, you have to be able to win with humility and lose with dignity and they've not shown that, I don't think, in recent weeks," Sky Sports TV analyst Phil Clarke, a former Great Britain and England international, said of the Wolfpack.

Toronto's reputation took a beating May 13 in an ill-disciplined 66-10 loss to Super League side Warrington in Ladbrokes Challenge Cup play. Andrew Dixon was sent off for punching a Warrington player while Darcy Lussick and captain Josh McCrone were sinbinned for talking back to the referee.

Warrington captain Chris Hill said the Wolfpack played like a "pub team."

Toronto coach Paul Rowley was not happy with his side's behaviour against Warrington, calling it "petulant." But he said Leigh provoked the latest incident.

Emotions had run high during the game. The two teams have plenty of ties with Rowley having played and coached at Leigh and Toronto's game-day 17-man roster including nine ex-Centurions.

The game's changing fortunes also ratcheted up the emotion. Leigh, which came into the contest on an 11-game winning streak in all competitions, led 26-12 with 17 minutes remaining.

With Leigh fullback Peter Mata’utia in the sin-bin for a high tackle, Cory Paterson bulled his way over the line with four minutes remaining to cap a three-try comeback. Ryan Brierley's conversion gave Toronto a 28-26 lead.

Leigh's bid for a tie failed when Ben Reynolds missed a penalty kick with no time remaining.

There was a confrontation in the tunnel area at halftime between Toronto forward Andrew Dixon, one of the former Centurions, and Leigh assistant coach Paul Anderson, according to Rowley.

Video that was not aired on the Sky game broadcast shows Anderson approaching Rowley after the game and squirting water at him. That prompted Rowley to close the gap, with Anderson putting his head on Rowley's. The two exchanged shoves before others stepped in to separate them.

Rowley dismissed the incident as "handbags." But there was more to come.

"On the back of that when I go to shake their (head) coach's hand, he snubbed me thinking I had created that stink and was winding his coach up," Rowley said. "When he realized what happened, he apologized and shook my hand."

That confrontation with Leigh coach Kieron Purtill was captured by Sky cameras, with Leigh forward Jamie Acton stepping in as the two head coaches exchanged words. Players intervened and Acton, his jersey torn in the melee, was led away.

"It got a little bit fiery," said Rowley, whose team beat Leigh 34-12 in their season opener Feb. 4.

"They (The Rugby Football League) put us against Leigh three times this year because they wanted drama, they wanted fireworks," he added. "Well you were always going to have some. I didn't expect it to be the staff that was having the fireworks but nevertheless that's what the RFL wanted, that's what they got. And so it goes. That's the way it is.

"We had a very a passionate set of supporters baying for blood — last game of the day, a full day in Blackpool, all having a good time. But we left with a smile on our face."

The game — before an announced crowd of 7,877 — was the third of the day at Summer Bash, a rugby league festival that featured six Championship games over two days at Bloomfield Road, home of Blackpool FC.

Toronto has had to deal with an entitled reputation since it started play in 2017 as a fully professional side in England's part-time third tier.

"I hate Toronto Wolfpack more and more with each passing game," tweeted one Wigan-based man.

The Wolfpack, meanwhile, believe they play with a target on their back — with opposition teams rising to the occasion when they take on Toronto and referees scrutinizing them intently.

"I think we're getting a bit of publicity against us, saying we're a dirty team," hooker Bob Beswick said in a post-game interview with Sky. "It's not (true) at all. We try to play the game tough but we play within the rules."

Not always though. Beswick is facing a two-match suspension for a tackle deemed dangerous.

The Wolfpack fly to Toronto on Tuesday. The team kicks off an eight-game homestand at newly renovated Lamport Stadium on June 9 against the London Broncos.

The Broncos, the only team to beat Toronto in league play this season, lost 40-28 to Toulouse on Sunday.

Toronto (13-1-1) tops the table ahead of Toulouse (11-4-0) and London (10-5-0).

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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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