Sonny Bill Williams’ eagerly-awaited return to rugby league proved to be something of an anti-climax as Toronto Wolfpack suffered a 28-10 defeat to Castleford in their first-ever Super League match at Headingley.
The former All Black ended his six-year absence from the 13-man code when he was introduced from the bench 26 minutes into his new club’s opening match of the season on Sunday, with them trailing 10-6. The $10 million marquee signing was unable to reverse their fortunes.
SBW knocked-on with his first two touches of the ball, earning jeers from the crowd.
“It was disappointing from a team point of view but from a personal it was great to get back out there,” Williams said.
“It’s an awesome atmosphere and for myself, the coach only wanted me to play 20-30 minutes maximum so I felt like I was getting a feel of it when I was out there.
“For me, I tried to do the little things well. There was nothing magical, but the foundations have been laid and we can work on that in a long season.
“The magic will come. If I’m doing the little things well, working back, passing and good on the kick-chase that is the foundations.”
It was a home game for Toronto, who are not due to stage fixtures in Canada until April, but it was the visitors who bossed the show, with new halves pairing Jake Trueman and Danny Richardson the architects of an impressive victory.
Brian McDermott’s men made a fine start with France international Hakim Miloudi threading a kick through the Castleford defence for winger Liam Kay to score the opening try after just three minutes.
But when Miloudi was unable to take Josh McCrone’s pass four minuets later Tigers winger Greg Eden scooped up the loose ball to race 90 metres for an equalising score.
Richardson kicked the first of his four goals to put his side in front and they never looked back.
Prop Grant Millington crashed over and would have had a second try but for a last-gasp interception by skipper McCrone.
Trailing 10-4, it was time for Williams to make his eagerly-awaited appearance but he knocked on with his first touch and repeated the error shortly afterwards in a clumsy re-introduction into the sport.
Castleford loose forward Adam Milner touched down Jordan Rankin’s grubber kick for his side’s third try and skipper Michael Shenton added another before halftime, when the Yorkshiremen led 22-4.
A one-handed offload from Williams to Kay showed glimpses of what could be but the Wolfpack’s defence continued to look suspect and allowed Peter Mata’utia in for Castleford’s fifth try after 45 minutes.
Miloudi raised Toronto’s spirits when he sprinted home to score on the hour but it was not enough.
Later, in the second match of Super League’s first double-header of the season, Hull opened their campaign with an impressive 30-4 triumph over Leeds.
The Black and Whites ended a 12-year wait for a win at Headingley last July and were good value for their five-try victory in the Yorkshire city.
Ratu Naulago made his mark with a try in each half while Carlos Tuimavave – who previously played for New Zealand Warriors and the Newcastle Knights in the NRL – and Josh Bowden were also on the scoresheet before Jamie Shaul crossed late on.