Sonny Bill Williams is the best thing to happen to Super League, ever, according to one of the game’s most experienced and decorated players.
Three-time Grand Final and two-time Challenge Cup-winner Sam Tomkins believes Toronto Wolfpack’s capture of the former All Black rugby union star will open doors for Rugby League like never before.
The 30-year-old Catalans Dragons full-back told League Express: “The signing of Sonny Bill is huge for the game. Without touching a ball he has achieved so much already by lifting the profile of the sport. Toronto have done remarkably well to get him.
“You have to take your hat off to the Wolfpack; they have done something that no other Super League team has ever done by signing the biggest name in either code of rugby. But he’s more than a rugby player, he’s a global celebrity. There are people all over the world who won’t know a thing about League or union, but they’ll know who Sonny Bill Williams is.
“I’ve played against him for England and he’s a big, strong athlete and a very good player. He’s obviously the highest-profile player in Super League and we should be grateful that Toronto have brought him in.
“Those that ever doubted the value that Toronto bring to our game must now see that they have done something that no other team could do by bringing in such a big name. Just think how many more people will be turning up or tuning in to watch Super League games just because Sonny Bill is playing.
“We should be grateful to Toronto. I’ve never been to Canada before, so I’m looking forward to our trip there in August, even though they’ve got a plastic pitch. I’m not a big fan of plastic but if you have to play on it there can’t be many better places than Toronto.”
Tomkins is a firm believer in expansion for Rugby League: “There are too many people in Rugby League looking inwards, who say why not spend the money in Yorkshire or set up a Cumbria team, but that’s not going to do anything for the game and we’ve been trying that for 125 years.
“We have to try new things and what’s more exciting than taking Rugby League to a sports-mad country like Canada and giving people there the chance to see a sport they have never seen before.
“There is potential there for the game to absolutely blow up and with talk of other teams over there like New York, why not? The more the better. Rugby League’s been up and down that M62 corridor all of its life and it isn’t growing.
“People who doubt teams like Toronto coming in and expanding our boundaries, they are not thinking of the bigger picture. I remember when the Dragons came in, people doubted then, they said it was a crazy idea but it’s been proven that it worked. So why not go a little further in places like Canada. I’m all for it.”
Tomkins is fully aware of the added burden placed upon expansion cubs like Catalans and Toronto.
“We are constantly reminded that we have extra responsibilities here in France. We’ve got a squad containing a lot of young French players and they are on the verge of breaking through to the first team. As established first-team players we have to help bring those players on for the future of the club and for the development of the whole game in this country.
“We’re a special club with special challenges. With so many French and English speakers at the club it’s easy for some players to slip off the same page because of the language barrier, but a lot of hard work goes into ensuring our communication is spot on.
“All the English speakers are trying to learn French, some with more success than others. I must admit it can be difficult, but we’re working hard on it. My eldest boy’s in school and he comes home and teaches me a few words every day.”
With just three days before the big Super League kick-off, Tomkins has weighed up the opposition and he believes 2020 could be the most open competition yet.
“I’m looking forward to seeing some new faces in Super League this season,” he said, adding: “A lot of teams have recruited really well. When you look at Hull, they have signed some really big physical players, so they will be a handful this year.
“Of course we will all be looking at how St Helens compare to last season and how the new line-up will go at Wigan. But I think Warrington must be favourites to do something this year with the addition of Gaz Widdop alongside Blake Austin. It’s a shame Gareth won’t start the season, but as soon as he’s ready he will have a big influence in 2020.
“There have been some great signings – you’d have to put Jimmy (Maloney) in there as well of course – and it’s good to see some genuine quality players coming over.”