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Toronto Arrows players left with more questions than answers after MLR team folds

Canada's Lucas Rumball (7) walks on the pitch at the end of the second half of men's 15s international rugby action against Spain in Ottawa, on Sunday, July 10, 2022. Rumball, like his Toronto Arrows teammates, has more questions than answers in the wake of news that the Major League Rugby franchise has closed shop. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

TORONTO — Captain Lucas Rumball, like his Toronto Arrows teammates, has more questions than answers in the wake of news that the Major League Rugby franchise has closed shop.

MLR said Monday that the Arrows, the league's lone Canadian entry, “will cease operations, effectively immediately, and not compete in the 2024 MLR season.”

Rumball and the Arrows players are waiting to hear more from the league, which has only said “player disbursement processes” would come later.

"It's limbo … There are so many questions right now to answer," said Rumball, who is also Canada's captain. "And not a lot of good solutions."

"There's all these things that the league has to decide what to do," he added. "Players' rights. Can guys sign anywhere? Can guys go anywhere? Is there going to be a dispersal draft? All those things are up in the air so for players, it's kind of wait and see. It basically comes down to the league deciding."

But with training camps set to open in January and many teams having already filled their roster, finding jobs will be difficult given the existing league salary cap and import rules — unless the league makes changes.

The Arrows currently have 22 players listed on their website, including talent from New Zealand, England and Ireland.

The league had allocated 130 international slots across 13 clubs for 2024, prior to the Arrows demise. This season, Toronto was allowed nine imports in its matchday 23 with Canadians and Americans counting as domestic players.

The league has previously counted Canadian players as domestic players south of the border. But visas still have to be acquired.

In August, the Toronto franchise was rocked by the death of Bill Webb, the club’s president, majority owner and general partner, from prostate cancer. He was 59.

At the time, the club said Webb’s family wanted the Arrows to continue and that “the entire organization will work to honour that wish and continue Bill’s indelible legacy.”

But that proved not possible.

“Despite extensive efforts, carrying on following the passing of Bill Webb was simply too great a challenge for the club to overcome,” Arrows GM Tim Matthews said in a statement Monday.

Matthews declined further comment, saying in a text to The Canadian Press that "my focus is solely on doing right by our players, staff and the Webb family."

Rumball, 28, backed up his GM and the Arrows front office.

"Tim and those guys are breaking their backs trying to figure this out for us and get us the best outcome for the players and the staff," said Rumball, a Toronto native who was the Arrows' first-ever signing.

Players were informed Monday of the decision to wind up the franchise.

"It was a shock," said Rumball.

In the wake of Webb's death, Rumball said the players had been assured the season was going ahead. The team had rebranded, hired a new coach and was booking accommodation and travel, he added.

The Arrows, who joined the league in 2019, were last in the 12-team league at 1-13-2 after an injury-plagued 2023 season.

The team finished on a 13-game losing streak with its lone win coming March 11, a 27-26 decision at the expansion Chicago Hounds. Ravaged by injuries, the Arrows were missing 14 players in their season-ending 26-24 loss to the visiting NOLA Gold on June 17.

News of the team’s demise is a blow to Rugby Canada. The Arrows served both as a pipeline to and home for Canadian talent on the national team.

With the Arrows gone now, there will be "a missing link" with the national team, said Rumball.

In August, the MLR announced its Atlanta franchise is moving to Los Angeles, upon closing of the team’s acquisition by the new ownership group. The move will fill the void left by the Los Angeles Giltinis, who folded before the 2023 season along with the Austin Gilgronis.

MLR, North America’s only pro rugby league, started with seven teams in 2018. The Arrows played an exhibition season before coming on board in 2019.

The league operated with 12 teams in 2023 with the expansion Miami Sharks slated to join the fold next season.


Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2023

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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