Sonny Bill Williams is determined to “turn some heads” with Toronto Wolfpack after revealing he took “stick” from team-mates over another cross-code switch.
Fresh from representing New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup, Williams has given up the 15-a-side game for another dabble in the 13-player code.
It will be a third stint in rugby league for the 34-year-old, who has also competed in professional boxing, and he has vowed to make an impact with the Super League newcomers.
He comes in on a salary worth a reported £2.6million per year, unprecedented money for a single player in the sport, with his signing a statement of intent by his new employers.
“As Toronto players, I think we’re going out there to turn some heads,” Williams said on Thursday. “But then also the amount of support the lads have back in Toronto, it sounds crazy.
“It’s a journey, there’s a bit of pressure there but it’s so exciting.”
He was speaking in London at a news conference to announce his arrival in the UK-centred league, with Toronto the ambitious Canadian outfit who played their first match less than three years ago.
Next term will be their first in the top tier, and Williams said he felt “really grateful and blessed for this opportunity but I understand what I’m coming into”.
Sonny Bill Williams addresses media from England, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia pic.twitter.com/uu7oXWkUqY
— Toronto Wolfpack (@TOwolfpack) November 14, 2019
He is confident the level of pressure that will be on him and Toronto is something he can thrive on, explaining he was offered the chance to join coach Brian McDermott’s team “around the World Cup time”.
Speculation linking him to Toronto had been bubbling along for months, and Williams decided the time was right to leave Auckland-based Super Rugby side the Blues when a deal was tabled.
“Obviously the lads in the teams I’ve been playing for were giving me stick but I hadn’t heard anything from the club. Once it all came about it came to fruition really quickly,” Williams said.
“But I just go back to the conversations that I had with Brian. Yes, I’m a sportsman, but I need to have that purpose, something I really believe in, and just his philosophy, how he wants to play the game, I feel like the way I strive to play the game, I could be really suited to their style of play.”
McDermott knows the new acquisition will raise the profile of Toronto’s team, and Super League as a whole, after pointing to the huge numbers of television viewers that saw Williams in World Cup action.
“They’re going to follow where he’s gone to and take interest,” McDermott said. “Now they may have no interest whatsoever to start with in Super League or the Wolfpack, but they are now going to do that.”
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