TORONTO — The Toronto Wolfpack keep winning. But coach Brian McDermott isn't liking much of what he's seeing these days.
For a second game in a row, the transatlantic rugby league team triumphed despite a string of errors in a 34-12 win Saturday over Halifax RLFC. Last week there were mistakes galore in a 40-10 victory over Batley Bulldogs.
Despite the passages of poor play, Toronto (19-1-0) has extended its win streak to 14 games and remains 10 points atop the second-tier Betfred Championship. But no one is popping champagne corks.
McDermott would only give a thumbs-up to a portion of the second half of a hot afternoon against Halifax, a stretch where the Wolfpack were tough on defence and scored some good tries on offence.
"That was about a 15-minute period ... But overall — I can say this pragmatically without emotion — I thought we were really poor today," he said.
McDermott did not stop there, saying "mental softness" had started creeping in.
"That one error becomes another error becomes another error. And I'm quite sure Halifax will have had a part to play in that. They didn't defend how we previewed them to defend. They were a hell of a lot more switched on. That's a broken record for me to say, that teams are defending better than what we normally see."
By that, McDermott means that part-time teams like Halifax rise to meet the challenge of the fully professional Wolfpack, a team bristling with top talent from around the world.
The Wolfpack have a target on their back. And each week there is a new challenger looking to take off some of its shine. While some stiff defence has helped quell the uprisings, McDermott knows his team will eventually pay for performances like Saturday.
"Against better opposition, stiffer opposition — against a Featherstone and against a Leigh, against a Toulouse, (in the) playoffs, that standard, we'll lose the game for sure," McDermott said.
McDermott, a former England international prop with a refreshing way of getting his message across, pointed to a scene from the film "Conan the Barbarian" where Conan finds himself in a pit fighting an array of gladiators, each with different weapons and skill sets.
"We get dropped into that pit and we pretty much know what weapons they've got," he said, referencing the Wolfpack's opposition. "Yet on game day, they come with a bigger, sharper, more aggressive weapon — not what we thought. And what are we going to do? We've still got to come out of the pit alive.
"And that we did. We won today. But it took us way too long to react to them being a bit different."
Neither team had success hanging on to the ball Saturday, making for a choppy game with little flow and few highlights. Halifax's points came after Toronto ran up a 28-0 lead.
The weather didn't help play. There was a heat warning in southern Ontario and the 28-degree conditions felt like 36 Celsius for the early afternoon kickoff at Lamport Stadium, with the occasional breeze most welcome. A brief shower came midway through the first half before the hot sun returned.
The Wolfpack led 10-0 after a poor first half strewn with mistakes. The error count dropped in the second half with Toronto pulling ahead before a brief Halifax burst.
Toronto fullback Gareth O'Brien celebrated his 200th career game with 18 points.
O'Brien and Liam Kay each scored a pair of tries and Andy Ackers and Tom Olbison added singles for Toronto. O'Brien also booted five conversions.
Liam Cooper scored for Halifax in the 63rd minute, bulling his way over after a penalty-aided set to end Toronto's run of 28 unanswered points. Ben Johnston added another try three minutes later.
Steve Tyrer kicked two conversions, delighting the announced crowd of 6,749 by hitting a passing streetcar on King Street with his second attempt.
For once, the fans were able to tell how much time was remaining, thanks to a new scoreboard. The old one had more than a few bulbs missing.
Wolfpack winger Matty Russell, the team's leading try-scorer, exited late in the first half with a rib injury. He did not return.
Toronto has not lost since March 9 when it was beaten 46-16 by Toulouse Olympique. The Wolfpack avenged that defeat with a 42-14 win on neutral ground May 18 in Blackpool, England, and a 28-16 victory June 22 at Lamport Stadium.
The top five teams in the table will battle it out for one promotion spot in the Super League. The Wolfpack look to finish first in the standings, which could reduce its playoff schedule to just two games.
O'Brien reached his 200-game milestone in his 43rd outing in Toronto colours.
The 27-year-old fullback also played 65 games for the Salford Red Devils, 62 for Warrington Wolves, 15 for Swinton Lions, seven for St. Helens, four for Widnes Vikings, and two each for North Wales Crusaders and Castleford Tigers.
"Proud to hit that milestone," said O'Brien. "Hopefully I've got many more to come."
Halifax (8-12-0) has lost six straight.
While it has stumbled in league play, Halifax has mounted a memorable Challenge Cup run. The part-time side is the first lower-league club in more than a decade to reach the Cup semifinals.
It is due to meet Super League leader St. Helens on July 27.
Saturday's game — Superhero Day, celebrating first responders — marked the return of former Wolfpack players Quentin Laulu-Togaga'e and Dan Fleming.
Toronto hosts fifth-place Featherstone (12-7-0) next Saturday.
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