As departing All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams prepares for life in Canada with ambitious rugby league side the Toronto Wolfpack, a new report has emerged that he could be joined by English midfielder Manu Tuilagi.
The newly-promoted Wolfpack will play in the Super League next year after winning promotion from the second-tier RFL Championship, and have been pursuing the signature of Williams as they look to strengthen their squad ahead of their debut in England’s premier rugby league competition.
Various news stories over the past 24 hours suggest that the Toronto side have landed their man, with Australian media outlet Nine News reporting that the 34-year-old has agreed to a two-year deal worth close to NZ$10 million, which would make him the highest-paid player in both rugby union and rugby league.
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“He’s made his mind up to play for the Toronto Wolfpack who play in the English Super League,” Nine News reporter Danny Weidler told the network. “The deal is stunning — $10 million for two years’ work.”
The Telegraph added to that by reporting on Saturday that Williams’ deal also includes a minority stake in the club, and now the English newspaper claims that the cross-code star may soon be followed by Tuilagi.
In a bid to become a global sporting brand, the Telegraph reports that Toronto want to sign the Samoan-born England international to their squad, less than a year after he turned down a lucrative offer to join Top 14 club Racing 92 to stay with Premiership outfit Leicester Tigers until June 2021.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 6, 2019
It is also believed that fellow England midfielder Ben Te’o, who played in the NRL for eight seasons between 2007 and 2014 and represented both Queensland and Samoa in rugby league, is also on the Wolfpack’s radar, and representatives of both players have been in contact with the club.
Toronto would have to pay a significant fee to Leicester if they are to attain Tuilagi’s services, but the acquisition of Williams signifies the lofty aspirations the club has for the future.
That has helped make them become an attractive destination for rugby league stars around the world, with an unnamed source telling the Telegraph: “A lot of NRL players are now cold-calling Brian Noble, Toronto’s director of rugby, about joining the club.
“The signing of Sonny Bill shows how serious the Wolfpack are in trying to crack the North American market. They want to sign players who are considered ‘rock stars’ in order to change the face of Super League. Manu Tuilagi is definitely next on their list.”
Toronto head coach Brian McDermott has previously spoken about the club’s desire to bring in a David Beckham-like player to do for the Wolfpack what the English football star did for the Los Angeles Galaxy during his time in the Major League Soccer competition in the United States – hence the recruitment of Williams.
“Sonny Bill Williams has shown interest in us and that’s what it is at the moment,” McDermott said last month.
“He’s currently busy with the World Cup so I wouldn’t ever dare to suggest that he is more than interested in coming but the answer wasn’t a ‘no’ once we made contact so that’s something we’d like to follow up.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 6, 2019
Significantly for the Wolfpack, new rules were introduced into the Super League two years ago to allow clubs with enough funds to sign players from outside of rugby league without it impacting the salary cap.
The Telegraph reported that the club were expected to raise salary cap and player eligibility issues with Super League officials at a meeting in Warrington on Wednesday.
Fixtures for the new Super League season were announced on Tuesday, and Williams could make his debut for Toronto as early as February when the club opens its 2020 campaign against the Castleford Tigers at Headingley Stadium in Leeds as part of a double-header.
The Wolfpack are unable to play at their home ground, Lamport Stadium, until next April due to the harsh Canadian winter and the unavailability for the local authority-owned stadium, so their first three home games of the season will be played on the other side of the Atlantic.
That means they will play the Tigers in the north of England on February 2 and will ‘host’ reigning champions St Helens at Allianz Park, the home of English and European rugby union champions Saracens, in London on February 29.
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