Sonny Bill Williams: How the Toronto Wolfpack got their man

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RNZ

Sonny Bill Williams’ big-money move to Super League side Toronto Wolfpack was two years in the making.

In the entire annals of sporting testimonials, it’s doubtful anyone has enjoyed the blind luck that just befell 33-year-old Castleford Tigers stalwart Michael Shenton.

On January 19, the veteran of 368 Super League games will be afforded the honour when the Yorkshire club, representing a town of 40,000, plays a pre-season match at their home, the charmingly crumbling Mend-a-Hose Jungle.

Under convention, Shenton will keep most of the gate receipts from his testimonial.

Sonny Bill Williams waves to fans in what was his farewell game against Wales.

HANNAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGES

Sonny Bill Williams waves to fans in what was his farewell game against Wales.

He must have been praying for a local derby against the likes of Wakefield or Leeds, or perhaps for the Tigers to host reigning Super League champions St Helens, for whom he used to play.

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However, although the fixture has not yet been made public, Shenton would have been aware for some time now that his opponents will instead be the Toronto Wolfpack. No doubt when the news came through, he would have been nonplussed.

Michael Shenton, left, could have a bonanza testimonial match, courtesy of Sonny Bill Williams.

MATT ROBERTS/GETTY IMAGES

Michael Shenton, left, could have a bonanza testimonial match, courtesy of Sonny Bill Williams.

Although the trans-Atlantic upstarts, as they say on the terraces of stadiums along the M62, “bring no away fans”, there was bound to be a bit of interest given they had been promoted to Super League after three years paying their way in the comparatively obscure lower divisions of British rugby league.

Then Friday happened.

Toronto Wolfpack signed Sonny Bill Williams, perhaps the world’s most famous active rugby player, to a two-year contract worth an estimated $CA9.92 million ($NZ11.8m) Working for the BBC on the Great Britain Lions tour of New Zealand, Wolfpack director of football Brian Noble says he immediately fielded media enquiries from – along with the usual locales – Saudi Arabia and China.

And now Michael Shenton’s mid-January Testimonial, a no-doubt cold, wet and slippery winter slugfest in England’s post-industrial north, will be the focus of global media attention and the wily centre may get enough from the gate to contemplate immediate retirement.

Sonny Bill Williams evades Jonathan Davies of Wales during the Rugby World Cup 2019 bronze medal match in Tokyo on November 1.

GETTY IMAGES

Sonny Bill Williams evades Jonathan Davies of Wale

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