How Sonny Bill Williams almost signed for Toronto while they were in the Championship

Later today, Toronto Wolfpack will create history as they announce the signing of Sonny Bill Williams in the most expensive deal in world rugby.

The Canadian club, just three seasons into existence, have recruited the biggest name in the game.

But this isn’t the first time the Wolfpack have tried to sign up the Kiwi megastar, having come close to luring him to the club – while they were in the Championship.

Back in the summer of 2018, the Wolfpack were preparing for the Qualifiers, an end of season competition that saw the Championship’s top four sides take on Super League’s bottom four, with a place in the top flight up for grabs.

The Wolfpack had already secured their place in the eight-team round-robin competition and were plotting a successful end to the year that would secure them Super League status.

It’s at that point, the club decided to make a play for Williams. The Wolfpack has held ambition since day one to attract world-class talent, but this was the first occasion they had ever truly set their stall out.

At the time, Reni Maitua, a well-respected figure in the NRL and friend of SBW, was an employee at the Wolfpack, operating as their player welfare manager.

He got the ball rolling as talks commenced with Williams’ representatives.

The Wolfpack offered him huge money, thought to be in the region of £1million, to play in the Qualifiers. In essence, they offered him more than £100,000 per match to help them in their quest to reach Super League.

Inside Toronto circles, there was a quiet confidence the deal would get done as the days passed by.

Ultimately, their plan was foiled during the final formalities. Williams had a contract with New Zealand RU until the end of 2019. Despite the Wolfpack offering him a deal out of the 15-man code season, the All Blacks rejected his request to play for the Wolfpack, and the deal collapsed there and then.

Had he signed back then, his first game would have been against Championship part-timers Halifax at The Shay before games against the likes of London Broncos and Toulouse Olympique. He would have also featured against Leeds Rhinos at Headingley.

Toronto ultimately missed out on promotion too. Despite finishing fourth in the Qualifiers, only the top three teams were automatically given Super League status, with the fourth place decided via the Million Pound Game, which the Wolfpack lost to London Broncos 4-2 at Lamport Stadium.

But 12 months later, Toronto not only have their place in Super League, but they also have their man.