Rugby league: Sonny Bill Williams intended staying in NZ, before Toronto Wolfpack came calling

Former All Black Sonny Bill Williams admits he never intended to switch back to rugby league in 2020, but the opportunity to play for the Toronto Wolfpack was one he couldn't turn down. 

On Friday (NZ time), new Super League side Toronto officially unveiled Williams at a press conference at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium in London. 

The cross-code star signed the richest deal in rugby history, reportedly worth $10m over two years, to join Toronto and begin a third stint in the 13-man game.

The 34-year-old said he planned on playing one more season of rugby in New Zealand, but a personal visit from coach Brian McDermott in Japan helped lure him back to league.

"Before the World Cup, I was intending on staying in New Zealand for maybe one more year," said Williams.

"But once this opportunity came about, and then obviously talking with David [Argyle, owner of the Wolfpack] and Brian, it was an opportunity that I couldn't turn down.

"I'm grateful and blessed for this opportunity, but understand what I'm coming into. It's great what Toronto have done and what they're trying to achieve.

"It all lined up and as a man of faith, I thought it was just meant to be."

Although reports of the Wolfpack's interest in Williams date back several months, the two-time Rugby World Cup winner insists he first spoke to team officials after the All Blacks' defeat to England in the semi-finals. 

He then told departing All Blacks coach Steve Hansen of his plans in the week building up to the third-place play-off with Wales at the World Cup.

"My manager was speaking to these guys around the [World Cup]. I said I didn't want to hear anything about it, as I wouldn't have been doing myself, New Zealand and the All Black jersey any justice.

"I was trying to be the best All Black I could be every single day, [but] as soon as we lost to England, the next day I caught up with my manager and he filled me in - that's when we started having conversations."

Asked if he would consider an NRL return, he didn't rule it out, but said it was highly unlikely.

"I'll be 36 once this contract finishes, so I can't see my myself moving back to Australia any time soon," Williams said.

"My wife might love living in Toronto - who knows, we may end up living there. I never expected to be sitting here right now, but we are riding this wave and it's exciting."

Sonny Bill Williams with Wolfpack coach Brian McDermott.
Sonny Bill Williams with Wolfpack coach Brian McDermott. Photo credit: Reuters

Williams previously played league with the Canterbury Bulldogs from 2004-08 and Sydney Roosters from 2013-14, winning the NRL title with both.

Wolfpack coach Brian McDermott said Williams had made an immediate impression on the squad.

"Sonny came into camp yesterday and met all the players and staff," he said. "We've signed a world-class international player. 

"We've signed, clearly, a world-class talented player. I'm also conscious that we've signed a brand and he's been building that brand for a number of years.

"We're going to use that brand to raise the profile of the Toronto Wolfpack and raise the profile of Super League."

Williams will return to Australia for a five-week training camp and re-join the Wolfpack after Christmas, before opeing the new season on February 2 against Castleford Tigers. 

The Wolfpack are based in Manchester for the opening weeks of the campaign, with Toronto weather at the time of the year unsuitable for outdoor sports.

The players then switch to their Canadian base in April, which is when Williams' family will join him.