TORONTO — England international Kallum Watkins, who joined the Toronto Wolfpack in May but never got to play for the transatlantic rugby league team because of the COVID-19 pandemic, has signed a three-year deal with Salford Red Devils.
The Wolfpack stood down on July 20, saying the franchise could not afford to play out the remainder of the Super League season. Some players have signed with other teams on short-term loans for the remainder of the season, including former All Black Sonny Bill Williams (Sydney Roosters) and Australian-born Samoan international Ricky Leutele (Melbourne Storm).
The 29-year-old Watkins joins Australian Blake Wallace in leaving the Wolfpack permanently. Leigh Centurions said Sunday it had signed Wallace for the 2021 season.
Salford was the hometown club of Manchester-born Watkins. He was both a ball boy and season ticket-holder there.
The signing comes just days after Watkins appeared on Sky TV as a guest analyst, saying he was looking for work.
“It’s great to be part of the team and representing Salford will be an honour for me,” Watkins said in a statement Monday. “I know it’s been a long time coming in a sense, but I grew up wanting to play rugby league and Salford was key to my development.”
He joins former Wolfpack hooker Andy Ackers at Salford.
Watkins’ move to Toronto on a three-year deal was originally announced in April, pending league approval, but was not confirmed until May. Super League was on hiatus at the time due to the pandemic.
Watkins had previously been in Australia but was granted a compassionate release from his contract with the NRL’s Gold Coast Titans after his father contracted COVID-19.
The Wolfpack, who lost all six matches in their debut season in Super League, hope to return to action next year under new ownership. Toronto entrepreneur Carlo LiVolsi, who was a member of the original ownership group, is looking to purchase the franchise.
Majority owner David Argyle has stepped away after seeing $30 million poured into the team.
Toronto players have not been paid since June 10.
The decision on whether Toronto will be readmitted in 2021 depends on Super League and the Rugby Football League officials, who are currently going over the Wolfpack’s new business plan.
Despite the departures of Watkins and Wallace, Wolfpack coach Brian McDermott said “the majority of the squad are staying strong.
“I’ve talked to most of them the last few weeks. Clearly they’re all concerned, clearly the whole squad is massively financially strained at the moment,” he said. “But we’ve got the main part of the squad that are already here, that have already been recruited, who have pledged to stay and want to see through next year. … I’ve got some recruits that we’re bringing in for next year and I’ve had a word with those guys and they’re willing to see what September brings.”
Watkins scored more than 130 tries for Leeds Rhinos, where he was coached by McDermott, before leaving for Down Under.
Watkins made his Leeds debut at 16 in a Challenge Cup game. He went on to play 256 games for the Rhinos, including a stint as captain under McDermott, before leaving for the NRL in 2019.
With Leeds, Watkins played in six Super League Grand Finals, three Challenge Cup Grand Finals and one World Club Challenge Final. He made his England debut in 2012.
Watkins injured his anterior cruciate ligament in a game against Castleford in May 2018, missing the rest of the 2018 season. The injury limited his play with Gold Coast.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 7, 2020.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press