2023 Toronto Arrows season wrap, and early off-season analysis

Former Toronto Arrows Vice-Captain, Mike Sheppard

The 2023 Toronto Arrows season was not a success. Even though it felt that fan support was there, the on-the-field play was not up to par in this most recent MLR season.

2023 Toronto Arrows season wrap; a disappointing MLR campaign

A huge reason for that were injuries as well as the inability to get a single win at home. There are many reasons for this, with just a few that will be outlined in the below article.

Strengths – Fantastic individual performances

READ MORE: Player Profile: Sam Malcolm, the ever relied-on Toronto Arrows pivot

GAME OF THE YEAR: Chicago Hounds vs. Toronto Arrows on March 11, 2023

This is probably the biggest plus for the Toronto Arrows. There were in fact two games where this becomes very noticeable and that was the game where the Arrows won by one point against the Dallas Jackals, which ended up being their only win of the season. Sam Malcolm scored all 27 points in that game and became only the fourth player in MLR history to score all his team’s points in a winning effort.

READ MORE: D’Shawn Bowen: The Toronto Arrows exciting new winger

The other time the Arrows scored a lot of points was when D’Shawn Bowen scored three tries in his home province against Rugby New York. They did lose that game, but Bowen played a role in the Arrows earning the two bonus point at York Lions Stadium.

The team fought back in some of the games

The Arrows did not play well and started some games on the wrong foot. However, they did fight back in some of those games. The road game against Rugby ATL was the best example, where they gave up the first 17 points to Rugby ATL. However, Toronto never gave up and scored 10 points in the last five minutes of the game. This allowed Toronto to earn the bonus point in the road loss against Atlanta.

This is the same case with home games against Rugby New York and Rugby ATL. With the former, if they capitalized, they might have won that game. They also came back from behind to get the draw against Atlanta.

The Toronto Arrows Academy promises a bright future

The Arrows Academy took part in the Coast to Coast Cup this year. There were three teams in the competition, with the BC Bears, and also the Atlantic Selects also taking part in the competition this year.

This included three Laurier Golden Hawk players stepping up for the Arrows academy. This is what Golden Hawks head coach, Phil Murphy, said about the performance of these players with the Arrows academy (source: Laurier Golden Hawks).

“It’s a testament to the hard work that those players are putting in year in and year out to try to better their game,” he said. “[They’re] finally getting the recognition that they deserve to be not only selected but starting.”

Weaknesses – Not a single win at home in 2023

The Arrows was not great last year in 2022. However, they did win half of their home games. A big reason why Toronto finished with the worst record in MLR this year was their home record. The Arrows finished with a 0-6-2 record. This included losing by big margins to the Houston SaberCats and having the worst defeat in Major League Rugby history against the New England Free Jacks.

It also did not help that the Arrows gave up the most points given up of any team with 601 points given up in 16 games. This included giving up 332 points at home. This also included giving up 80 points to New England and 50 points to the San Diego Legion at York Lions Stadium. Things will need to improve in terms of their home record, if they want to have a chance to make the MLR playoffs.

Making too many turnovers and inability to convert scoring chances

The Arrows had a tendency to turn over the ball against the opposition. This was very clearly seen in the game against the NOLA Gold. One was where the Arrows kept giving the ball back, which resulted in a Morley Wheeler try for the Gold. There was then a turnover that eventually led to a Tom Florence try in the 53-minute of that game.

This was also seen in their worst loss of the season against New England, where turnovers led to tries scored by John Poland and Paula Balekana. Also, the Arrows were unable to get past most defences in MLR. Other times there were mistakes made that cost them results. One has to be fair though with the Arrows having lots of injuries, but it still does not change the fact that they did not play their best game.

In fact, the Arrows have the second-lowest points total of all MLR teams this year. This included not scoring a single try on the road against New York City and Washington D.C.

What was the cause of that? One was the franchise’s inability to start off their games well. This was notable with some of the games the Arrows played. And with some of them, the games got ugly. For example, the road game at Mount Vernon Memorial Stadium was where the Arrows gave up three tries, including two to Dylan Fawsitt. A similar thing can be seen with Old Glory DC, where they never had an answer to the team based in U.S. capital and ended up losing that game 29-3.

Even in games where they played better at home like Rugby ATL and especially against Old Glory DC, they had to come from behind to get a draw against those teams. While it is difficult to start every game on the right foot, it felt more often than not that the Arrows were on the backfoot.

Analysis – the Toronto Arrows and what their future holds

Season Grade: D-

Yes, there were some positives with the academy and individual performances. However, the Arrows management and players will expect much more from themselves and the team for the next season in 2024. This is a loyal fan base, who still showed up to the games at York Lions Stadium. However, Toronto is in a competitive sports market. Things will need to change, and the Arrows fans might run out of patience if the team is not competitive next year.

READ MORE: Toronto Arrows Mike Sheppard: reliable Canadian Rugby Vice-Captain

The Toronto Wolfpack has made their official return to Lamport Stadium earlier this year, the Global T20 Canada cricket league has returned to Brampton, Toronto is likely getting a pro women’s soccer team in 2025, and there is an active group looking to bring a WNBA team to Toronto. In addition, the Scarborough Shooting Stars, which is based in a part of Toronto, won their first-ever CEBL championship this year.

To add to that, the unfortunate relocation of Rugby ATL and the franchise moving to Los Angeles means that the Arrows may not have a “true rival,” in the league right now. The Arrows had some tough games against the Seattle Seawolves and Rugby New York in the past, but Toronto never had a rivalry cup with them like they did with Atlanta. It is unclear if this rivalry will continue with the Los Angeles team.

Lastly, Mike Sheppard, a loyal servant to the Arrows organization had announced his retirement from professional rugby union. There is an article about him above as he played an instrumental role with the Arrows since their inaugural MLR season back in 2019. This was what co-founder Bill Webb (to read more about Webb and his legacy with the Arrows, please click the link above) said about the season and also of the loyal fans with the Arrows (source: Toronto Arrows):

“Once again, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of you. Your loyalty and passion have always been the driving force behind our club, and we are honoured to have such an incredible fan base. Together, we will overcome the challenges, learn from our setbacks, and create a bright future for our club.”

Webb was always a great person to talk to and always appreciated the fans support. He will be missed. Webb is also the reason why the Arrows exist and what he did and the rest of the Arrows organization did to play games while COVID-19 was happening was incredible. The Toronto pro rugby union franchise will now look to 2024, which will be their sixth season in MLR.

Off-season signings ahead of 2024 season

There have been recent signings of current Arrows players who will play for the team next year. The Arrows also participated in the 2023 MLR Draft, where the Arrows selected two players from the province of Quebec and got Robert Povey via a trade from the Houston SaberCats. The Arrows acquired Te Rangatira Waitokia in exchange for the 2024 salary cap considerations (source: Toronto Arrows RFC).

READ MORE: 2023 MLR draft Toronto Arrows: Quebec Universities stand out

This is what Tim Matthews, Arrows Vice President and General Manager, said about the move (source: Toronto Arrows RFC):

“Te has been one of the top backs in Major League Rugby over the past three seasons,” said Tim Matthews. “His combination of speed, creativity, and durability makes him a very dynamic addition and he’ll bring plenty to our group of backs this upcoming season. We’re looking forward to welcoming him to Toronto.”

The acquisition of Waitokia from their former Fire and Ice Cup rivals, Rugby ATL, might bring in some excitement. Waitokia, is a New Zealand player that can play either the centre, wing, or the fullback role. He scored eight tries for Atlanta in 2023.  Waitokia was also part of that Rugby ATL team that lost to the LA Giltinis in the 2021 MLR Final. A player of such experience is badly needed for a team that did not have a good season in 2023. He should be an exciting addition to the Canadian squad come next year in Major League Rugby.

Other former Rugby ATL players coming to the Arrows via a trade includes utility back, Rewita Biddle, and lock, Jordan Brown (source: Toronto Arrows RFC).


“Photo Credit: Barry McCluskey / Toronto Arrows on June 17, 2023”