AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – FEBRUARY 16: Sonny Bill Williams of the Blues looks on during the round 1 Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Crusaders at Eden Park on February 16, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)
Newly promoted Super League outfit Toronto Wolfpack claim their website crashed after confirming the arrival of Sonny Bill Williams on a two-year, NZ $10 million deal on Friday.
The Canadian league side joins the Super League after collecting its second promotion in three years since joining the UK ranks in 2017.
The club is hopeful of building its star image as they continue to make new waves, and kick-started their new profile with a statement labelling Williams as “Lebron James” – a globally renowned basketball icon.
The move had originally drawn comparisons to football legend David Beckham’s switch to LA Galaxy in the US in 2007.
The Wolfpack’s site was functioning after the announcement of Williams’ signature for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, with the crash perhaps relating to the hype that surrounds the clubs biggest move, making Williams the richest player across both rugby codes.
Toronto hopes that Williams’ arrival will boost the profile of the Super League, as the organisation continues mirror the worldwide markets produced in North America and hopefully see financial benefits in the UK.
“The excitement he will bring to the sport of rugby league in this country will be incredible,” Wolfpack CEO Bob Hunter told Stuff.
“Having someone of his talent join the Wolfpack will greatly raise the profile of the club, and also help move the game forward globally. Sonny is a phenomenal athlete and we believe he is rugby’s LeBron James and his addition to our league is comparable to when David Beckham joined LA Galaxy. ”
Toronto coach Brian McDermott first contrasted Williams’ move with Beckhams highly anticipated switch to Major League Soccer.
“We have signed one of the highest profile rugby players, if not sports stars in the world and he will enhance the world of rugby in Toronto and certainly push the brand of the Wolfpack onto another level,” McDermott said.
“The main point of excitement for our club is that we are signing a great rugby league player who has the hunger to be successful in Super League much as he was in the NRL and rugby union.”
The Wolfpack are also believed to have English pair Manu Tuilagi and Ben Te’o as hopeful targets in the off-season.
Williams’ contract will also include benefits that see him own shares of the club as well as a lead role in the clubs upcoming Netflix series that will look to run across three seasons.
SBW’s contract will see him earn a staggering NZ $5.25 million a year, with his annual salary exceeding the NZ $4.24 million salary cap for Super League clubs as he joins under the league’s marquee exception.
The 34-year-old played his 58th and final test for the All Blacks in their Rugby World Cup Bronze final against Wales last Friday.
The 40-17 victory is likely his final match before a return to league, where he last played for the Sydney Roosters five years ago.