Sonny Bill Williams says he still has a point to prove to the rugby world as he prepares to make his long-awaited return to league next weekend. The New Zealander has signed a multi-million dollar deal with the Canadian side Toronto Wolfpack, who make their Super League debut on 2 February against Castleford Tigers following promotion last season.
The season-opener will mark Williams’s first game of league in more than five years if, as expected, he is selected despite only beginning training with the Wolfpack earlier this month. However, the 34-year-old stressed that having been away from the game for so long he is not interested in talk of featuring at this year’s Rugby League World Cup until he has shown he can perform in league again.
“I haven’t proven myself in Super League yet,” Williams said on Wednesday. “I’ve been away for five years and for me to start thinking about playing for New Zealand or Samoa is ridiculous. I’m here, and I’m fully focused on being with the Toronto boys to see if I can play the 13-man game. I always have a point to prove, no matter where I am. I wouldn’t still be around after 18 or 19 years if I didn’t have that inner drive to succeed.”
Williams says he is willing to cope with the pressure placed on him by his new employers to help spread the game’s popularity in North America,. “I understand that the responsibility is to use my profile in whatever capacity I can to help grow the game – and I’m all for it,” he said. “If it means doing a bit more of this stuff, or going and speaking to young kids, I’m for it. This is such a blessed opportunity, being able to experience this on and off the field. If it opens a few doors for kids in Australia, New Zealand and the islands to succeed … how cool would that be?”
The Toronto coach, Brian McDermott, believes it will take until the final third of the new Super League season for Williams to fully readjust to life in league, a sentiment the player agreed with. “The one thing I admire about the coach is that he understands this is a long game,” Williams said. “I want to be flying at the end of the year. I haven’t played for five years and when I do I’ll be a bit rusty but it’s about building into the season.”