All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams is joining the Toronto Wolfpack.
A source confirmed that the deal is done, with an announcement expected Thursday by the transatlantic rugby league team. The source was granted anonymity because the signing has not been publicly announced.
The Wolfpack will make their debut in the top-tier Super League in February after winning promotion in October in their third season. Signing an icon like Williams will help them kick off life in the Northern Hemisphere’s top rugby league circuit with a bang.
The New Zealand back has won championships in both rugby codes — union and league — and has real star power in the rugby world. Williams has competed at three Rugby World Cups — winning two — and was part of the New Zealand rugby sevens team at the 2016 Rio Olympics, partially rupturing an Achilles tendon in the All Blacks’ first match.
Williams, whose resume also includes an unbeaten stint as a heavyweight pro boxer, is fresh off the All Blacks’ third-place finish at the World Cup in Japan.
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He has won two rugby league championships in Australia’s NRL.
At six foot three and some 238 pounds, Williams is a powerful runner who has an uncanny ability to offload the ball to a teammate even when getting gang-tackled. He can also be a bruising defender.
The signing of the 34-year-old Williams has been rumoured for months with Wolfpack majority owner David Argyle confirming in February that his team had had “active negotiations” with Williams’ agent. Wolfpack chairman and interim CEO Bob Hunter said last week that discussions were continuing.
“We’d obviously be extremely excited about landing a player of that calibre and that notoriety,” Hunter said at the time. “It would make such a big difference.”
Williams will reportedly make millions with the Wolfpack.
Like Major League Soccer, English rugby league has a salary cap with a partial exemption for marquee players. In rugby league, the salary cap was two million pounds ($3.39 million) in 2019. Teams can have two marquee players with each of their salary cap hits restricted to 150,000 pounds ($254,100).
Toronto’s marquee players in 2019 were Australian forward Darcy Lussick and Samoan international back Ricky Leutele.
Williams made his All Blacks debut in November 2010 against England and has won 58 caps (including 16 off the bench). His record in the famed black jersey is 52-5-1 with the only losses coming against South Africa (in 2011), Australia (2015 and ’17), the British and Irish Lions (2017) and England (at the recent World Cup).
Dominant vs. Canada
Ten of his 65 career points came at the World Cup against Canada. with a try in New Zealand’s 79-15 win in 2011 and another in the 63-0 victory in Oita on Oct. 2
The Wolfpack started life in the third tier of English rugby league in 2017, winning promotion to the second-tier Betfred Championship in its first season. It won promotion to the top-tier Super League in October with a 24-6 win over Featherstone Rovers in the Million Pound Game.
Williams earned a legion of fans at the 2015 World Cup final after New Zealand beat Australia at Twickenham. A young fan who had made his way on the field was tackled hard by a security official right in front of him as the All Blacks made their way down the sideline saluting the fans.
Williams helped the young boy up, put his arm around him and walked him back to his parents in the stands, giving him his winner’s medal before exchanging hugs and parting ways.
Went pro at 16
Williams left New Zealand for Australia as a 16-year-old to play rugby league in the NRL with the Canterbury in Sydney. In 2004 he became the youngest player to win an NRL premiership as the Bulldogs won the grand final.
He switched codes in 2008 to play rugby union for France’s Toulon. Williams left two years later, saying he wanted to play for the All Blacks.
He has also played club rugby for the Crusaders, Chiefs and Blues in Super Rugby and Japan’s Panasonic.
In 2013-14, he switched codes again to play for the NRL’s Sydney Roosters.
Williams went 7-0-0 as a boxer between 2009 and 2015, earning the vacant New Zealand Professional Boxing Association heavyweight title in 2012 with a TKO win over Clarence Tillman.