Rugby·Analysis

Will the Wolfpack lure the 'LeBron James of rugby' to Toronto?

Sonny Bill Williams is a rare breed. He has won top honours in both codes of rugby; twice a World Cup winner with the All Blacks and a double NRL Champion in Australia. Nigel Reed writes that the Toronto Wolfpack are keen on adding Williams for two reasons: his impressive resume, as well as his ability to grown the game in a crowded sports marketplace like Toronto.

Sonny Bill Williams has been a target of club owner David Argyle

Sonny Bill Williams is a superstar in the rugby world and has been on the radar of Toronto Wolfpack owner David Argyle. (File/The Associated Press)

He hasn't played a competitive game in nearly five years. He's the wrong side of 30 and has flirted with professional boxing.

No matter.

He is "rugby's LeBron James", and if the Toronto Wolfpack has its way, Sonny Bill Williams will be on its roster within the year.

The comparison to the NBA superstar comes from Wolfpack owner David Argyle. He is dreaming big and probably has the financial muscle to back his fanciful proposition. Argyle has started a buzz that could reverberate all year.

Williams, as Argyle rightly observes, is "box office and puts bums on seats". Wherever he lands after representing New Zealand at the 2019 Rugby (Union) World Cup, there is no doubt Williams will remain a commodity in demand.

Williams is a rare breed. He has won top honours in both codes of rugby; twice a World Cup winner with the All Blacks and a double NRL Champion in Australia. To date he also boasts a 7-0 record in the boxing ring and is was top of the bill at "The Banger Under the Hanger" charity bout in Sydney in December.

Sonny Bill Williams, left, trades punches during a charity bout during the Banger Under the Hangar Charity Fight Night in December of 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (File/Getty Images)

It's clear Williams will have options. By year's end he will be 34; sooner or later his body will tell him it's time to stop. Assuming he stays healthy, the next question is one of motivation. His resume is stacked and only Williams can decide if there is enough hunger within for one last adventure.

Money talks of course. A barrow load of it can be extremely persuasive. Despite its infancy as a club, the Wolfpack has not shied away from investing in a fully professional set up. Whether Argyle can tempt Williams back to a sport he last played in 2014, only time will tell.

Whatever the financial inducement, Sonny Bill may not be interested in returning to the 13-man code. Toronto must be prepared to sell him the Canadian dream – the prospect of transatlantic Super League and growing the global game – with Williams the centerpiece. It's just possible he'd bite.

The Wolfpack blueprint must be bold. The club has only just begun its third season of play but understands the need to force its way into the public's imagination. In a crowded sports marketplace like Toronto, where the Blue Jays, Toronto FC, and the Argos are also competing for fans' summer dollars and loyalty, the club must continue to elevate its status. The signing of Sonny Bill Williams would significantly accelerate the process.

For the time being, it's intriguing speculation. According to Wolfpack head coach Brian McDermott it's a "nice headline" but there can be no question his team is aiming to be part of Super League in 12 months time. Planning ahead is never a bad thing.

McDermott's immediate task is to keep his squad focused on the here and now. It is four straight wins and counting following a hard fought victory over the Leigh Centurions. The Wolfpack produced another strong defensive performance in what veteran forward Ashton Sims described as "easily the toughest" game so far.

Defensive stalwarts take on the Rams

Adam Higson and Bodene Thompson both touched down against their former team but Toronto's defence remained disciplined and resilient late on despite a strong push from the Centurions. The Wolfpack have conceded a miserly three tries in four outings – a testament to their work ethic and collective commitment.

The unbeaten start will be tested again in the rugby league heartland of West Yorkshire. Round 5 takes the Wolfpack to Dewsbury (Sunday 10ET cbcsports.ca) to tackle the Rams (1-1-1).

Toronto has had a couple of close calls already this season. The Rams have demonstrated they are well organized under new coach Lee Greenwood, and like all others will doubtless up their game in a bid to topple the league leaders.

All good in theory, but the difference in class should prevail. Expect the Wolfpack to batter the Rams and emerge with a 5-0 record.

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