TORONTO — On a day of upheaval for the Toronto Wolfpack, the transatlantic rugby league team severed ties with fan favourite Fuifui Moimoi and two other marquee forwards and named Australian veteran Josh McCrone club captain.
Moimoi, a hard-hitter who was one of the faces of the franchise in its inaugural season, exited in a terse two-sentence release along with Ryan Bailey, a former Great Britain and England international, and former Australian international Dave Taylor.
The Wolfpack offered no explanation for their sudden departure but it appears there was some kind of incident at training camp with the club moving swiftly to nip the problem in the bud.
"Ryan Bailey, Fuifui Moimoi and Dave Taylor have left Toronto Wolfpack by mutual agreement. The club thank the players for their efforts, and wish them well in their future careers," the statement read.
Coach Paul Rowley did not immediately return a phone call. The club did not expand on its statement when asked.
The timing could not be worse. Toronto opens the season Feb. 4 at Leigh Centurions.
Taylor had not even played for the club, having signed in September in the off-season.
Toronto has been training in Portugal and England ahead of its second season — and its first in the second-tier Championship. It started a five-day warm-weather camp in Portugal this week.
The unexplained departure of three name players is one of the few hiccups surrounding the Wolfpack, a success story to date after winning promotion out of English rugby league's third-tier Kingstone Press League 1 in its first season.
The team drew well and avoided making headlines off the field.
The 38-year-old Moimoi, a former New Zealand and Tongan international built like a refrigerator, was a cult figure with the Parramatta Eels in Australia's National Rugby League before coming to the Wolfpack after a stint in England.
It usually took several tacklers to bring him down, much to the delight of Wolfpack fans.
The 33-year-old Bailey, another big man who is hard to miss with Love and Hate tattooed on his eyelids, recently won an appeal against U.K. Anti-Doping, negating a possible four-year ban. His debut season with the Wolfpack was disrupted by injury.
Taylor, 29, was one of the Wolfpack's big-name off-season recruits, touted as a big-hitter like Moimoi. He previously played for Brisbane, South Sydney, Gold Coast and Canberra Raiders in the NRL and the Catalans Dragons in the Super League, also representing Queensland in the State of Origin series.
"There's clearly some crazy good things happening with rugby league in Toronto and I can't wait to get there," he said upon signing.
Now it appears, he will never know.
The Wolfpack also announced that Fiji international forward Ashton Sims, like McCrone an off-season acquisition, will be the club's vice-captain.
McCrone joined the Wolfpack from St. George Illawarra Dragons, having played more than 150 NRL games. A scrum half, the 30-year-old McCrone is expected to quarterback the Toronto attack this season.
He replaces former skipper Craig Hall who left for Leigh in the off-season.
Sims, 32, joined the Wolfpack just before Christmas after representing Fiji at the Rugby League World Cup. The forward joined Toronto from the Super League's Warrington Wolves.
"Josh is a very eloquent and strong communicator," Rowley said in a statement. "What he says is final and if there is any breakdown in play he gives clarity to the rest of the group quickly and precisely. He gives the players a solution and instructions on how to move forward and he's really stepped up to the mark this week.
"Ashton is one of a number of leaders within the team who leads with his actions and is very vocal too. He plays long minutes and speaks common sense off the field as well as being very strong and enthusiastic on it and I want him to have the freedom to display that for us this season.
"Both of them are a good partnership. They are both strong and make tough decision and they have really shown these qualities at this camp. The other players fully support that these are the two best players to lead this group."
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press