TORONTO — The Toronto Wolfpack have cut five players, including two Canadian internationals, as they prepare for life in the second tier of English rugby league.
Gone are Steve Crossley, Tom Dempsey, Shaun Pick, Rhys Jacks and Sean Penkywicz.
Wolfpack coach Paul Rowley paid tribute to the departing players, saying they had helped build the fledgling franchise.
"All five departing players have made a massive contribution to the Wolfpack family both on and off the field," Rowley said in a statement. "They have made history and all hold a heritage number that they should be forever proud of.
"This is the downside to coaching and the cruel reality of sport is that inevitably players move on during the close season. In remaining honest in my appraisal, and truthful to the facts that are presented, it allows all concerned to cope and move on in a positive manner."
Jacks was the highest-profile player cut after scoring six tries in 14 appearances in 2017. Like Dempsey he is Australian but qualifies to play for Canada because of bloodlines.
Rowley says Jacks, who captains Canada, was caught in a roster numbers game.
The Wolfpack argued unsuccessfully with league officials that Jacks should not be considered one of their foreign players. The Canadian team seems to be penalized because the governing body uses quota rules set for teams in the United Kingdom.
"The situation as it stands is that the rules of the game categorize Rhys as a quota player for the Wolfpack despite his Canadian international status," said Rowley. "This would leave the club's 2018 squad at capacity which would restrict further recruitment plans.
"We have worked with the RFL (Rugby Football League) to review Rhys's position but unfortunately we have been unsuccessful on this front. Although frustrating for all concerned, we remain respectful of the competition rules."
Toronto has already signed seven new players in preparation for next year.
The Wolfpack, rugby's first transatlantic team, won 20 of 22 games in its inaugural campaign in conquering the third-tier Kingstone Press League 1 with a small — albeit fully professional — roster of 22-23 players.
Rowley estimated he needed eight or nine more players for life in the second-tier Championship.
Crossley has already landed on his feet, re-signing with his former club, the Bradford Bulls.
Penkywicz has retired, ending a 226-game career that included Super League rugby with Halifax and Huddersfield, as well as international caps for Wales.
"I have known Sean on and off the rugby field now for several years and I know how much it meant to him finishing his career on a high in our Championship winning season," Rowley said. "Sean demonstrated all that is great about him in his final year, his grit and determination in dealing with adversity, his phenomenal try-scoring ability in nicking tries close to the line and above all as a strong, resilient member of the team."
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