New Zealand rugby star Sonny Bill Williams signing shows the established elite of Super League can’t turn their backs on newcomers Toronto Wolfpack.
Crossing codes from union to league and vice versa is nothing new for the rugby megastar.
Sonny Bill won the NRL with both Canterbury Bulldogs and Sydney Roosters nine years apart, with Super Rugby and World Cup successes in-between.
A marquee player in every aspect, Williams has played different positions depending on the code. For the All Blacks, he is a powerful centre yet in league he has turned out as a forward.
That versatility could soon be at the disposal of the Wolfpack. This curious Canadian franchise entered the English rugby league structure just three years ago and has made rapid progress.
Victory in the Million Pound Game ensured Toronto of a place in Super League for 2020. Head coach Brian McDermott has added promotion with them to four top flight titles with Leeds Rhinos on his CV.
His appointment for the 2019 RFL Championship season was clearly made with the big time in mind.
The Wolfpack have realised all their ambitions so far and can now look forward to rubbing shoulders with St Helens, Wigan Warriors and other top Super League clubs.
This first-ever North American presence in the league adds an extra dimension to the silver anniversary of its formation.
Given the Canadian climate during the winter months, Toronto can’t have home games on their own patch.
Instead, the Wolfpack will be on a European tour of sorts playing nominal home fixtures in England, Irish capital Dublin and even Barcelona.
Despite this unique situation, bookmakers have slashed their Super League outright odds on Grand Final glory.
Why the prospective Sonny Bill Williams signing matters
At a time when the financial viability of rugby clubs is once again making headlines with English Premiership outfit Saracens incurring a points deduction for breaching union salary cap rules, seeing Toronto make a marquee move like this is interesting.
What goes on in the other code has little or nothing to do with Super League, but teams are allowed to have two players exempt. Sonny Bill Williams signing for Toronto ticks that box.
A multi-million pound deal taking him across codes comes after the Wolfpack had to prove their funding. There are also reports circulating that Williams is the tip of the iceberg.
Toronto are an ambitious outfit and won’t want to stop at just one universally recognised name. There’s also a commercial aspect of the wider attention Sonny Bill joining them brings with it.
At 34, the chances of him playing in another Rugby World Cup are remote at best. Winding up his playing career in Super League is a distinct possibility for Williams, who has handled the pressure of his high profile pretty well.
He has transcended the rugby world even embarking upon a successful pro boxing career at heavyweight. This remarkable man is a sporting inspiration to a whole generation of Kiwis.
Sonny Bill has played in World Cup finals in both codes. Super League apart, there’s virtually nothing in the games of rugby he hasn’t done. The Wolfpack will be sure to give that a serious tilt.
London Broncos didn’t make a good fist of top flight rugby league following their promotion from the Championship in 2018. Toronto can hardly do worse even if their momentum is checked in the big time.
McDermott won’t be worrying about that. If Wolfpack make other qualities signings besides Williams, the further he can take them.