LONDON (Reuters) – Sonny Bill Williams said on Thursday he had not planned to return to rugby league but felt the offer to join Toronto Wolfpack ahead of their debut in England’s top-tier Super League was too good to turn down.
The 34-year-old New Zealander, speaking at his introductory news conference at London’s Emirates Stadium following last week’s announcement of his two-year deal with the Canadian side, said the move was meant to be.
“This deal came to fruition in such a short space of time,” Williams told reporters. “This was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.
“I’m grateful and blessed for this opportunity but understand what I’m coming into. It’s great what Toronto have done and what they’re trying to achieve. It all lined up and as a man of faith I thought it was just meant to be.”
A two-times Rugby World Cup winner who was also part of the New Zealand sevens team that lost in the 2016 Rio Olympics quarter-finals, Williams brings star power to a team who started in the third tier of English rugby league in 2017.
Williams said the deal to join Toronto came about during the recent World Cup in Japan, where the All Blacks finished third after a surprise loss to England in the semi-finals.
“During the World Cup once I found out they were interested I started watching a few of their games. Their style is different to other teams,” Williams said of the Wolfpack.
“When I made contact with a couple of Australian players by all accounts it’s different and there are other challenges but nothing I’m not used to.
“To be honest before the World Cup I was intending to stay in New Zealand for another year in union.”
The decision to join Toronto on a deal reported to be worth $9 million marks the fourth code switch in Williams’ career and the New Zealander said he was unlikely to return to Australia’s NRL.
“I’ll be 36 by the time this contract finishes, I don’t think I’ll be going back to Australia anytime soon,” Williams said.
Williams, whose move to Canada is being compared to England soccer international David Beckham joining Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, had a clear message for his new team mates.
“Wherever I go I know there’s a lot of headline-grabbing and attention,” said Williams. “I want my team mates to know when I’m coming to work it means I’m coming to do the things people don’t see behind closed doors.”
Toronto kick off their the 2020 season against Castleford Tigers in Leeds, England on Feb. 2.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)