The Toronto Wolfpack saw their 23-game winning streak snapped last Sunday in a 28-10 loss to Castleford Tigers in their Betfred Super League debut.
On Saturday, the transatlantic rugby league team looks to avoid losing back-to-back games for the first time in franchise history when it visits the Salford Red Devils.
It took the Wolfpack less than three minutes last weekend to record their first try in Super League. But they didn't score again until the 60th minute, with Castleford reeling off 28 points in the interim with Toronto mistakes helping the Tigers' cause.
Trailing 22-4 at the break, the Wolfpack cleaned up their game in the second half but the damage was already done.
"We did some good things but I think they were outnumbered by some of the poor things that we did," said Toronto coach Brian McDermott. "Sometimes the speed of the game got to us and it was something we clearly weren't used to.
"There's an element of we knew this scenario would unfold and it may unfold for the next two or three weeks until we're genuinely up to speed. But the game wasn't void of positive things."
Toronto tried to play an expansive style but was let down by handling errors, making 16 or 17 depending on the statistical source. It was Toronto's lowest offensive output since the 4-2 loss to London Broncos in the Million Pound Game in October 2018.
Marquee signing Sonny Bill Williams came into the Castleford game in the 26th minute, his first competitive rugby league game since September 2014 with the Sydney Roosters. The former All Blacks star showed flashes of his skills with an acrobatic offload but was clearly finding his rugby league feet again.
"It's never a mistake if you learn from it," he told Sky-TV after the match.
Salford finished third last season at 17-12-0, losing to league leader St. Helens in the Grand Final. But the Red Devils roster took a beating in the off-season with star halfback Jackson Hastings leading an exodus to other clubs.
"They're proved to be a quality side," McDermott said. "I know they've had a change in personnel but the core of who they are remains the same with the same coach (Ian Watson).
"The first six or seven games for us this year are going to be difficult because they're all top teams that finished in the top four or certainly the top six of the league. At the same time, we're trying to find some fluency ourselves, so we expect it to be a real challenge."
Salford will be motivated in its home opener after being thumped 48-8 at St. Helens in its first outing.
McDermott offered a surprise last week in starting Blake Wallace at fullback over Gareth O'Brien, named player of the year last season in the second-tier Championship.
McDermott said while he knows O'Brien is a quality player, he wanted to give Wallace a run out at fullback. The Australian usually plays at halfback but finds himself in a logjam there behind captain Josh McCrone and Joe Mellor.
"This is no slight on Gareth O'Brien. It's more us finding out what out players can do," said McDermott.
And while winning is the name of the game, McDermott knows the time for experimentation is now as his players adapt to the pace and physicality of Super League.
"We have to make sure that by the time we need to be good, I need to be completely aware of what our players can do," he added.
That is especially true with Toronto's 23-man roster. That number is further reduced with Greg Worthington out on loan, Darcy Lussick recovering from hernia surgery and Chase Stanley still working on visa issues.
On the plus side, forward Bodene Thompson is close to being back from a calf strain.
"We'll maybe roll the squad around, roll the team around this week and see what (back) Gary Wheeler can do," McDermott said. "We'll look at some other positions as well."
Toronto, now in its fourth season, has played at Salford twice before — losing 29-22 in a fifth-round Challenge Cup tie in 2017 and 28-16 in a 2018 Super 8s Qualifiers playoff game.
Both have been lively affairs. Three players — two from Salford and one from Toronto — were sent off in the 2018 game. Salford also had a player red-carded in the 2017 encounter.
The 2017 defeat was the first for the Wolfpack in a competitive game. And Salford held on to win in 2018 despite a 16-point Toronto rally in the second half.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2020.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press