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Sonny Bill Williams is now reportedly the highest paid player in either code of rugby in the world after confirmation of his move to the Toronto Wolfpack Super League club.
Sonny Bill Williams wears the smile of a man rekindling his first true love. His thoughts dwell not on the World Cup semi-final humbling he suffered with New Zealand three weeks ago, but on his impending and improbable reunion with rugby league.
“SBW” is, by any gauge, a sporting polymath of the purest pedigree: he has lifted the Webb Ellis Cup twice, won two national titles in Australia in league, represented his country in sevens at the Rio Olympics, all while somehow becoming the Kiwis’ heavyweight boxing champion in only his fifth fight.
It is a stunning body of work, soon to be augmented with his debut for Toronto Wolfpack, in a deal worth NZ$10 million over two years. Such a pay packet, the most lucrative in the sport’s history, reflects not just his power as a one-man brand, but also his role in elevating league’s profile in the virgin market of North America.
Hopping between codes is a move fraught with danger, given how fiercely the disciples of league and union defend the honour of each. But Williams leaves no doubt, less than a month after forsaking the All Blacks for good, as to where his loyalties lie.
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As we sit in a corner of the gilded W Suite at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, where he has just been unveiled as Toronto’s marquee signing, I ask which of his achievements give him the deepest satisfaction.
“My children,” he replies, without hesitation. “Easy. From a sporting point of view? I guess it would have to be the NRL championships that I was a part of – they were a bit more special than anything else. Growing up as a league man, you envisage those moments so much.
“It has been an unbelievable journey to be an All Black. But when I hear some of th
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