It took three years, but the Toronto Wolfpack finally got their man.
Sonny Bill Williams will be suiting up for the Canadian side when they make their Super League debut in 2020.
The long-awaited announcement was made official by the team on Thursday afternoon.
Williams, a two-time Rugby World Cup winner with the New Zealand All Blacks, has always been the man in the middle of the bullseye for Wolfpack majority owner David Argyle. In fact, Wolfpack founder Eric Perez recounted a story to NRL.com on Wednesday about how Williams’ name came up in the early days of the franchise while the two were spit-balling for ideas to push the team’s image into the public eye.
“I was reminded of this by David today,” Perez told Brad Walter on Wednesday. “We were talking about it and he [Argyle] said actually I got the idea from you [Perez] because you said if we can get to the Super League then one day we can bring in a huge star like Sonny Bill.”
A cross-code superstar who made his name in Rugby League before transitioning to Union, and then back and forth again, Williams’ profile surpasses that of anyone else in his sport. While he may not be the household name in Canada that David Beckham was when he made his landmark move to the LA Galaxy in 2007, the expectation is that his ascension to stardom won’t take long.
The impact of this move has already been noticed in other corners of the globe. The Wolfpack have seen web traffic around their brand skyrocket in the United Kingdom and Southern Hemisphere over the past couple of days when it was reported the deal was in its final stages.
In fact, Argyle is already reportedly planning a full-blown marketing campaign around his newest star. With the expectation that Williams will wear number 21 with the Wolfpack (incumbent Bodene Thompson currently wears Williams’ number 12), the owner is planning a viral movement centered on Williams.
After the success of #SeeTheeRise during their run through the Betfred Championship playoffs and their victory in the Million Pound Game over the Featherstone Rovers, Argyle has another hashtag in mind. Running in concert with the ‘Rugby Revolution’ Toronto has been pushing over the past three seasons, the newest social media offering, #RugbyDisrupters21, will showcase how the Wolfpack have disrupted the norm.
It shouldn’t be hard considering Williams’ presence on social media. He has more than 800,000 followers on both Twitter and Instagram, and was found to be rugby’s second-highest earner per post on Instagram earlier in 2019. One member of the organization called the move to Toronto “logical, if not perfect” for Williams considering his brand awareness.
Argyle’s public courtship of Williams has been well-documented since last February, but things seemingly slowed towards the end of the Wolfpack’s regular season. Director of Rugby Brian Noble told TSN following the team’s win over Leigh in the season finale that “we’ve reached out to him, but it’s ultimately his call. If Sonny Bill wants to return to Rugby League, we’ll be waiting for him with arms open.”
Things reached a boiling point during the last few weeks of the World Cup in Japan. That was when the news of a $10-million, two-year offer leaked, alongside an apparent stake in the team and a starring role in a Netflix documentary. That was also where a reported face-to-face meeting took place with Wolfpack head coach Brian McDermott.
The contract will come in at just under the $10-million figure, reportedly paying Williams nearly $4.4-million per year. Super League clubs will operate under a 2.1-million pound salary cap for 2020, which translates to $3.6-million.
While the contract makes him the highest-paid player in the history of either code, the strain on the cap is significantly less. Williams will be one of the team’s two marquee players, with either centre Ricky Leutele or prop Darcy Lussick likely taking the second spot.
The Rugby Football League (RFL) allows teams to designate two players under the marquee rule. Those players make at least 175,000 pounds per season ($300,000), but only count 150,000 ($255,000) towards the cap. Salaries are not disclosed by RFL teams. The smaller salary between Leutele and Lussick will count entirely against the cap.
Some have questioned the hefty price tag attached to Williams, and whether he’ll be able to live up to it on the field. While it’s fair to ask that of the 34-year-old, it was clear throughout New Zealand’s bronze-medal performance in Japan that he has plenty left to offer at an elite level. The abbreviated cap hit ultimately mitigates any risk from a roster-building perspective.
However many times he steps onto the field at Lamport Stadium over the next two seasons, the Wolfpack have already seen a significant return on their investment. Their revolution is getting the attention that they’ve craved, and Williams should assure them that the Toronto Wolfpack will not simply be a one-hit wonder in Super League.