Toronto Arrows, Canada’s lone entry in Major League Rugby, not playing in 2024

A rugby ball. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

TORONTO — The Toronto Arrows, the lone Canadian entry in Major League Rugby, are closing shop — at least for the 2024 season, and possibly for good.

Players were informed of the decision in a call with the team Monday.

They were told “funding was not there this year. Some things fell through and they’re not going to be able to go ahead with the 2024 season,” said a source who was on the call and granted anonymity because the decision had not been announced officially.

Jericho Groenland, MLR’s director of marketing, said via email a “full update” would be coming shortly. The Arrows did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Arrows, who joined the league in 2019, have endured tough times of late. The team finished last in the 12-team league at 1-13-2 after an injury plagued 2023 season.

The team finished the year 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.

Coach Peter Smith left the franchise in July. Bill Webb, the club’s president and general partner, died a month later from prostate cancer. He was 59.

While Webb was the majority owner, there were seven other co-owners.

At the time, the club said the Webb family “has conveyed that it is Bill’s wish that the Arrows will continue to flourish and contribute to rugby in Canada, and the entire organization will work to honour that wish and continue Bill’s indelible legacy.”

Australian Stephen Meehan was hired as Arrows coach in late October with the club continuing to make player signings.

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 seven Toronto players named to Canada’s 32-man tour squad for the La Vila International Rugby Cup earlier this month in Spain.

The Toronto club is home to Canada captain Lucas Rumball, among others.

In 2020, Rugby Canada hired former British Lion Rob Howley as senior assistant coach under Canada coach Kingsley Jones. As part of the signing, Howley worked as a consultant with the Arrows.

The Arrows’ record over five seasons was 29-38-2. Toronto finished third overall at 11-5-0 in its 2019 debut season and topped the East at 4-1-0 when the 2020 season was called due to the pandemic.

Because of COVID-related travel restrictions, the team moved south of the border in 2021 and played the entire season based out of Rugby ATL’s facility in Georgia. In 2022, the team returned to Canada, playing its home games at York Lions Stadium.

In August, the MLR announced the Atlanta franchise is moving to Los Angeles, upon closing of the team’s acquisition by the new ownership group. Atlanta and Toronto contested the Fire and Ice Cup annually because of their close ties.

The Atlanta franchise move will fill the void left by the Los Angeles Giltinis, who folded before the 2023 season along with the Austin Gilgronis.

The league cited uncertainties surrounding the Austin and Los Angeles team ownership in suspending operations of the two sides. Australian entrepreneur Adam Gilchrist owned both franchises, named after cocktails.

The Giltinis were league champions in their inaugural 2021 season, defeating Rugby ATL 31-17 in the final at their home Memorial Coliseum.

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.

The Arrows join rugby league’s Toronto Wolfpack on the sporting sidelines. The transatlantic Wolfpack, who played the sport’s 13-man code, lost its November 2020 bid for reinstatement to England’s Super League.

The Wolfpack had been in limbo since standing down July 20, 2020, saying it could not afford to play the remainder of the season with the pandemic preventing games from being played in Canada. Players and staff had not been paid since June 10.

Majority owner David Argyle, unable to fund the club, stepped away. Toronto businessman Carlo LiVolsi stepped forward as a potential new owner, providing the club was allowed to remain in the English top tier.

The Wolfpack has resurfaced but in limited fashion, playing in only a handful of friendly matches.

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