We take a detailed look into the career of international superstar Sonny Bill Williams.
There is no question it takes a special kind of athlete to be able to make an everlasting impression in both codes of rugby. The likes of Johnathan Davis, Jason Robinson and Henry Paul all certainly spring to mind over the last 20 years. However, one man that has undoubtedly made one of the biggest impressions in both codes since the turn of the 21st century has to be Sonny Bill himself.
Now, in a move that rocks the sport to its core, SBW has returned to rugby league and this time in Super League with Canadian club, Toronto Wolfpack. It is one of the biggest deals in the sport’s history, with the ex-All Black earning more than £5.4million over the course of a two-year contract. So, in response to the news, we take an in-depth look into the career to date of one of rugby’s most notable stars of the modern era.
Born in Auckland, New Zealand, SBW’s life in rugby league began in the Auckland Rugby League’s premier division where he turned out for Marist Saints as a junior. By 2002, his already noticeable talent saw him recognised by Canterbury Bulldogs scout John Ackland and in the end, Williams became the youngest player ever to sign with an NRL club.
After continuously impressing for the Bulldogs in the Jersey Flegg Cup, he made the jump up the ranks to the New South Wales cup side before being called up to Canterbury’s first-grade side. At the young age of 19, he made his NRL debut against Parramatta Eels during the 2004 season and what followed was one of the most impressive debut seasons in recent memory. In 15 games he scored four tries and although he featured mainly off the interchange bench – his impact value was more than evident as he became the youngest Bulldogs player to appear in a Grand Final as his side came out 16-13 winners against Sydney Roosters. A phenomenal way to end an exceptional first year in the league, especially when you take into account the youngster had already made his international debut for New Zealand after only a handful of games in the NRL.
Alongside claiming an NRL debut title, it would be even more of a season to remember as the young Kiwi was awarded International Newcomer of the Year and a place in the World XIII for that year. However, Williams saw a shortened 2005 season after a severe knee injury kept him out but he came back just as strong over the course of 2006 and 2007, making 42 appearances and scoring 22 tries over the two seasons.
Even despite injuries and suspensions, Williams continued to be an integral force in Canterbury’s forward pack between 2004 and 2008 and appeared 73 times for the Doggies while crossing the line on 31 occasions.
However, SBW’s story was only just beginning as in a somewhat controversial move, he departed Canterbury midway through the 2008 NRL season, despite being contracted for another five years, deciding instead to take his skills cross-code into union with French club Toulon. It was cited that salary cap restrictions were the reasoning behind his sudden departure and it was definitely one that did not go down well with fans and players alike.
He went on to become somewhat of journeyman in union, playing for the likes of Toulon, Crusaders, Chiefs, Panasonic Wild Knights and he then went on to represent New Zealand, making his mark everywhere he went. The Auckland man continued to build himself into the player that many thought he could be with his high motor, tackle busting and offloading ability becoming his standout traits.
After five years in union, Williams made his return to league in 2013 and this time with the Sydney Roosters. In typical Sonny Bill fashion, he announced himself back to the action in front of a record crowd and television audience by scoring the Chooks’ first try of the season before going on to be an integral unit in a Roosters side that went on to claim NRL honours after beating Manly in that year’s Grand Final. Despite only signing for one year, he made the decision to stick with Sydney for another season, the first time he would do so since his time with Toulon. The 2014 season saw the Roosters claim back-to-back Minor Premierships and despite missing out on a Grand Final appearance, Williams was still a talismanic figure and was crowned Rugby League International Federation player and Back-rower of the Year.
The 2014 season was the last we saw of the New Zealand international on the rugby league scene but in the end, he proved time and again how instrumental he can be to a team’s success. Overall, he has made 188 appearances and scored 42 tries in seven seasons and of course will only look to add to these numbers whilst with the Wolfpack.
Sonny Bill’s journey continued once again in 2015 as he made the move back again to union and with the Chiefs for another season. It was to be another year filled with even more accolades, accomplishments and silverware. He was named in Canterbury’s Team of the Decade and it was in the 2015 Rugby Union World Cup where his displays saw the All Blacks come out as competition winners.
After a year in Rugby Sevens during 2016, Williams last played for the Blues in Super Rugby between 2017 and 2019 before the rumours began circulating over his proposed move to Toronto and back into rugby league.
Whether it was in union, league or professional boxing, Williams proved to be the ultimate master of all trades. When you take everything into consideration, he continues to be a role model and a devoted family man off the field and on the field, he remains an athletically gifted freak whose skill are undeniable, despite injuries and suspensions along the way. The dual-code star is seen as one of the most unique and special talents to grace the sport.
There has never been a player quite like the big New Zealander, who is of Samoan descent. He is one of a kind.
Despite his size, he possesses a great deal of athleticism and there is no doubt that he proved to be someone who could easily slot right into any team from the get go. He is capable of making a huge play that could change the course of any game, whether it be a charge up field or a slick offloading play to put his team on the front foot.
Now, even at 34 years of age, SBW looks to have plenty of marketability and is set to make his bow for the first time in a league that many will argue is in dire need of something explosive. The forward’s presence alone is seemingly already enough to get people excited for a new season of Super League. All that is left to do now is to brace ourselves, buckle up and enjoy the next chapter of Sonny Bill’s remarkable career.