The Toronto Wolfpack, looking to enter the top-tier Super League with a bang in 2020, has again confirmed its interest in All Blacks rugby star Sonny Bill Williams.
“I can clearly and publicly say that we continue discussions with he and his agent,” Wolfpack chairman and interim chief executive Bob Hunter said in an interview Tuesday. “We don’t know if there’s other competition in that process but negotiations continue. And we’d obviously be extremely excited about landing a player of that calibre and that notoriety. It would make such a big difference.”
The transatlantic rugby league team believes Williams’s star power will add to its appeal at home and abroad. And with the Wolfpack in negotiations with Super League officials about TV revenue and other financial matters involved in promotion, it wouldn’t hurt to have a superstar in its back pocket.
But there is no deal, yet.
“Nothing is concluded and no announcements until such time there’s an agreement in place,” Hunter said.
Williams, 34, is a rugby icon who has represented New Zealand internationally in both rugby union and rugby league. He 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, who has won two Rugby World Cups, has also pursued a boxing career.
The centre is currently at the World Cup in Japan with New Zealand, which takes on Wales on Friday in the third-place playoff.
The Wolfpack have been linked to Williams for a while.
In February, Wolfpack majority owner David Argyle confirmed that the transatlantic rugby league team had “active negotiations” with the agent for Williams, a powerful back who has excelled in both rugby union and league.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, that interest has turned into a record-breaking contract offer worth as much as nine million Australian dollars ($8,037,750) over two years.
Citing a source with knowledge of the contract negotiation, the Sydney newspaper says the contract would make the 34-year-old Williams the highest-paid player in the history of either rugby code.
In February, Fox Sports Australia, citing sources, said the Wolfpack had offered Williams a one-year contract worth five million Australian dollars.
The reported contract terms have not been confirmed.
“It’s a very, very big commitment should it happen,” Hunter said. “It just brings such strong brand recognition to the team, given his notoriety.”
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 the Featherstone Rovers in the Million Pound Game.
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 £2-million ($3.38-million) in 2019. Teams can have two marquee players with each of their salary cap hits restricted to £150,000.
Toronto’s marquee players in 2019 were Australian forward Darcy Lussick and Samoan international back Ricky Leutele.
At 6 foot 3 and some 238 pounds, Williams is a powerful runner whose ability to offload the ball in a tackle extends attacks.
Williams left New Zealand for Australia as a 16-year-old to play rugby league in the National Rugby League with 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 made his New Zealand debut against England in 2010 and currently has 57 caps.
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.