Like a bad hangover, a tumultuous pre-season is still taking its toll on the Toronto Wolfpack.
A string of injuries disrupted coach Paul Rowley's preparations as the transatlantic rugby league team geared up for life in the second-tier Betfred Championship. So did the dismissal of marquee forwards Fuifui Moimoi, Ryan Bailey and Dave Taylor for unspecified disciplinary reasons.
Rowley had always planned to upgrade his roster after gaining promotion from the Betfred League 1 in the Wolfpack's first year. But a training camp he calls a "disaster" and "totally dysfunctional" has led to even more moving parts in the Toronto roster.
"I feel like our season is just about getting under way," said Rowley. "But we're nowhere near where we want to be and that is 100 per cent due to the pre-season."
"We're working on it. Slowly but surely. Chipping away," he added.
The picture isn't quite as bad when you view the standings. Toronto (4-1-1) stands fourth, just one point behind the league-leading London Broncos.
But five of Toronto's six games to date have been against team currently ranked sixth or lower in the 12-team division. The Wolfpack lost 47-10 to the Broncos in Round 4.
Toronto will be missing hooker Bob Beswick (knee) and halfback Blake Wallace (groin) for Friday's game at Rochdale Hornets (1-3-0). Joe Westerman, Rich Whiting and Nick Rawsthorne have all been dealing with illness this week.
After Rochdale, the schedule turns serious with back-to-back away games at third-ranked Featherstone Rovers (5-1-0) and second-ranked Toulouse Olympique (5-1-0). Away fixtures against the fifth-, sixth- and seventh-place teams follow.
"This is it. The business starts right now," said Rowley. "We're hitting a ruthless set of fixtures."
Prior to the season, Rowley said jumping from League 1 to the Championship was akin to the frying pan to the fire.
"This is it now. We're in the fire. This is where it starts."
The injuries to Beswick and Wallace, who could be back in three weeks in a best-case scenario, means Toronto is thin at two key positions with only Andy Ackers, captain Josh McCrone and Ryan Brierley available.
On the plus side, former Salford fullback Gareth O'Brien is ready to make his Wolfpack debut.
Toronto continues on its prolonged string of away matches while the artificial turf is replaced at Lamport Stadium. The Wolfpack may not return to their home stadium until June.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press