Rugby

Sonny Bill Williams shrugs off Beckham comparisons as Toronto Wolfpack introduce new star

The Toronto Wolfpack have opened the vault in the hope that All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams will put them on the worldwide map as the team prepares for its step up into England's top-tier Super League.

New Zealander recently signed 2-year contract with Toronto rugby squad

Sonny Bill Williams, right, speaks to media as Bob Hunter, CEO of Toronto Wolfpack looks on during a press conference in London, England on Thursday. (Getty Images)

With comparisons to soccer legend David Beckham and NBA star LeBron James, rugby upstart Toronto Wolfpack unveiled their newest star, Sonny Bill Williams, in London, England on Thursday.

But the 34-year-old New Zealander, who starred with that country's famous All Blacks team before signing a two-year, $9-million deal with the Toronto team, shrugged it off as easily as he does tacklers.

"I guess so, probably on a smaller scale," Williams said of the comparisons in an interview with the CBC. "This is personally such a blessed and awesome opportunity for myself and I'm very grateful for it. But I understand what can come from it. There's pressure and probably a lot of people that don't want me or the club to succeed as an organization.

"I just see endless opportunities, I try to live my life with a positive outlook and this isn't any different."

WATCH | Sonny Bill Williams on comparisons to David Beckham:

New Zealand All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams talks with CBC News following his introductory press conference, after signing the richest deal in rugby history to play for the Toronto Wolfpack. 3:34

The Wolfpack recently won promotion to the Super League, England's top tier of rugby, after just two seasons of play.

Williams has won championships in both rugby union and league and has real star power in the sport around the globe. Williams has competed at three Rugby World Cups — winning two — and was part of the New Zealand rugby sevens team at the 2016 Rio Olympics before rupturing an Achilles tendon.

Bob Hunter, the Wolfpack's chairman and CEO, said Williams is as big as any star in North America.

"I'm not sure how big Lebron is in New Zealand and Australia but he's certainly big in North America," Hunter said. "We think that arrival of Sonny to our city and organization is equally in the same status."

Williams said the deal came about following the recent Rugby World Cup, where Williams and New Zealand finished third. He told the CBC he met with Wolfpack manager Brian McDermott and liked his philosophy.

"[After the World Cup] the next day I spoke to my manager. He told me not to worry and to talk to [the Wolfpack.] The opportunity that is there is an amazing one, both on and off the field," Williams said. "When I sat down and spoke with [McDermott], just his philosophy on how he wants to play the game, I really believe in him."

WATCH | Wolfpack introduce Sonny Bill Williams

Watch the full press conference from London as the Toronto Wolfpack introduce Sonny Bill Williams, after signing him to the richest contract in rugby history. 43:20

McDermott said he couldn't be happier with the acquisition.

"I just wanted to stress that I'm pleased we've signed a brilliant player," McDermott said. "We want to raise the profile of our club and utilize that brand for sure.

"That's why I flew out to Japan, we had a couple hours of dinner. He had questions about the club's identity and intentions and I can't speak for Sonny but I think we both know that night that this could be good."

Toronto opens their Super League campaign Feb. 2 against Castleford Tigers in Leeds, England. The home opener is April 18 against Hull FC.

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