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Toronto Wolfpack strengthen squad, add experience with six new signings

TORONTO — The Toronto Wolfpack strengthened their squad Thursday with six new signings, including Samoan international centre Ricky Leutele and veteran England forward Jon Wilkin.
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TORONTO — The Toronto Wolfpack strengthened their squad Thursday with six new signings, including Samoan international centre Ricky Leutele and veteran England forward Jon Wilkin.

Also joining the transatlantic rugby league team are Warrington Wolves second-rower Bodene Thompson, Castleford Tigers prop Gadwin Springer and Widnes Vikings scrum half Joe Mellor and second-rower Tom Olbison.

It's an instant injection of Super League experience as the Wolfpack prepare for another crack at promotion to the top flight. Toronto, which topped the second-tier Betfred Championship this season, fell 4-2 to London Broncos in a tense promotion showdown Oct. 7 at Lamport Stadium.

The 28-year-old Leutele joins Australian forward Darcy Lussick as the Wolfpack's so-called marquee players. Like the designated player in Major League Soccer, only a portion of a marquee player's salary counts against a club's salary cap.

Under Rugby Football League rules, marquee players only count 150,000 pounds (C$255,365) against the 2019 salary cap of two million pounds ($3.4 million), no matter what they are paid.

Leutele and Wilkin had both confirmed their move to Toronto prior to Thursday's official club announcement.

Leutele scored 30 tries in 128 appearances for the Cronulla Sharks in Australia, helping them to the NRL championship in 2016.

"Ricky brings size, elusive skill and raw pace to our backline," Wolfpack director of rugby Brian Noble said of the hard-running Samoan, who stands six feet and weighs just under 220 pounds. 

Leutele played a key role in Cronulla's 14-12 win over the Melbourne Storm in the 2016 NRL Grand Final before 83,625 spectators at Sydney's ANZ Stadium. The Australian-born Samoan centre became part of club lore when he made a game-saving tackle on Marika Koroibete in the dying seconds.

The 34-year-old Wilkin, who made more than 400 appearances for England's St. Helens since 2002, has two Grand Finals, four Challenge Cups and a World Club Challenge on his rugby league resume.

"He is the ultimate professional on and off the park as well as being tough, highly skilled with tremendous leadership skills and masses of big-game experience," said Noble. "His signing is exactly what we need when facing the challenges of reaching Super League next year."

The 30-year-old Thompson played in England for Leigh before joining Warrington, starting in the Wolves' recent Grand Final loss to Wigan. Prior to that, the Kiwi played almost 150 NRL games for the Gold Coast Titans, Wests Tigers and New Zealand Warriors.

The 25-year-old Springer, a French international born in French Guiana, played his junior rugby for Toulouse Olympique before making his Super League debut for Catalans Dragons in 2014. He spent the last four season with Castleford, making more than 50 appearances.

Mellor and Olbison, both 27, saw their Widnes team relegated in a Super 8s Qualifiers loss in Toronto in September.

Mellor spent eight seasons with Widnes, making more than 150 appearances. Olbison came up through the ranks at Bradford, joining Widnes after the Bulls were relegated.

Toronto forwards Richard Whiting and Cory Paterson retired recently, with other roster changes expected.

 

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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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