Sonny Bill Williams’ rumoured cross-code move from rugby union to Canadian-based English Super League outfit the Toronto Wolfpack could bring with it a switch of allegiance at the international level of the 13-man game.
According to a report from the Sydney Morning Herald released on Saturday, Williams is expected to accept a lucrative two-year contract with the Wolfpack, reportedly worth just under NZ$10 million, by the end of this week.
International Rugby League officials are hopeful that the move will benefit the game worldwide, especially with the Rugby League World Cup set to be held in England in 2021.
IRL chief executive Nigel Wood recalls the impact Williams had at the 2013 World Cup, where the 34-year-old was named player of the tournament after helping steer the Kiwis to the final.
“Sonny Bill was one of the greatest attractions at the 2013 World Cup, it was memorable for me when New Zealand played Samoa at Warrington and he slipped over the dead-ball line without getting the ball down, which brought the game alive,” Wood said to the SMH.
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“He’s a quality athlete and if athletes like him are playing rugby league that is the best thing that can happen.”
Whether Williams would commit himself to the Kiwis at the next World Cup, which would probably act as his professional sporting swansong, has come under scrutiny, however.
Prior to playing his final game for the All Blacks during New Zealand’s 40-17 victory over Wales in the Rugby World Cup bronze medal match in Tokyo on Friday, Williams spoke of his hopes of seeing more Pacific Islanders or Maori included within the national coaching ranks.
The two-time NRL champion is eligible to play for either the Kiwis or Samoa upon his impending arrival back to rugby league, but his comments in Japan may be indicative of where his international future in the sport could lie.
4 more years?
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 3, 2019
He holds a Samoan passport, and was heavily pursued by ex-New Zealand and Samoan star Nigel Vagana to play for the Pacific Island nation at the 2013 World Cup.
Williams spoke of the pride he has for his Samoan heritage when visited the country in 2014 as part of an NRL promotion while he was playing for the Sydney Roosters.
“I’m embarrassed I can’t speak Samoan, but I tend to show how proud I am by acknowledging [my heritage] with my tattoos,” he told a large audience at the promotional event.
His addition to the Toa Samoa set-up would be a welcomed addition for head coach Matt Parish, whose side was thumped 44-20 by Fiji at Eden Park on Saturday.
The result leaves Samoa well behind World Cup contenders Australia, New Zealand, England and Tonga, and Parish expressed the need for his side to play more games in the lead-up to the showpiece tournament in two years’ time.
“I need to be a bit careful here, but the fact is Tonga have some momentum, and on the back of talking to influential people in the NRL they’ve been able to get [more] games,” he said.
“It’s deservedly so. [But] we need games. You can’t have New Zealand playing four games [against Australia, Great Britain and Tonga] and we play one. How is that fair? How do we get players, money, sponsorship?”
Perhaps the answer to Parish’s concerns lies within the Wolfpack’s anticipated deal with Williams, but only time will tell.
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