Sonny Bill puts pen to paper on MEGA rugby league return deal

Sonny Bill Williams (Getty Images)
Sonny Bill Williams (Getty Images)

Wellington - Code-hopping All Black Sonny Bill Williams has been put on a pedestal with superstars LeBron James and David Beckham after confirming on Friday a return to rugby league, joining the Toronto Wolfpack in a deal that could make him the richest player in either code.

The two-time Rugby World Cup winner is reported to have inked a contract with the Canadian side worth £2.6 million a year (R45 million) which would be a record deal for either rugby league or union. 

Although Williams has been plagued by injury in recent years, and at 34 is nearing the twilight of his playing career, the Toronto Wolfpack believe he offers immense value as they prepare to debut in the English Super League.

"The excitement he will bring to the sport of rugby league in this country will be incredible," chief executive Bob Hunter said.

"Sonny is a phenomenal athlete and we believe he is rugby's LeBron James and his addition to our league is comparable to when David Beckham joined LA Galaxy."

The money, however, while a record for rugby, pales against the $38 million James gets a year from the Los Angeles Lakers and Beckham was on $6.5 million 12 years ago when he joined the LA Galaxy to give soccer a boost in the United States.

Wolfpack's commercial vice-president Jon Pallett told Radio Sport in New Zealand the Williams deal was worth it.

"There's very few sport stars on the planet that transcend their sport. In our sport, Sonny Bill Williams has been and is that player," Pallett said.

"Certainly we think there is a commercial value to having a player like this.

"There's certainly a huge value to us in terms of our fan base, and the community work that we do, and obviously the sponsorships and ticket sales that go with it."

It will be Williams' third stint in rugby league after ending his union career with a bronze medal in the recent World Cup in Japan.

"I just want to say that I'm not coming over for a holiday and I'm coming to do some work. God willing, we can have a successful season on and off the field," he said in a message to Wolfpack fans when confirming the switch.

"I'd like to thank all those fans in New Zealand and around the world who have supported me," he added. 

"I'd also like to thank everyone involved in the All Blacks family. I never dreamed that I'd play in the black jersey for 10 years playing alongside some of the legends of the game, and I'm grateful for the support of so many people in helping me grow as a footy player over that time."

Williams played 58 Tests for the All Blacks and was a member of the World Cup-winning sides in 2011 and 2015. 

He played for the All Blacks Sevens at the 2016 Olympics, is a New Zealand boxing champion and is a former New Zealand rugby league international.

He came to prominence playing for the Canterbury Bulldogs in the Australian National Rugby League competition before switching to union in 2010.

He returned to the NRL in 2013 to join the Sydney Roosters and also played in the New Zealand side that lost in the Rugby League World Cup final to Australia that year before returning to union for a second term.

Toronto - backed by the Australian oil tycoon David Argyle - play their first Super League game against Castleford on February 2.  

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