WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Code-hopping All Blacks center Sonny Bill Williams has confirmed he will return to rugby league, joining the Canada-based Toronto Wolfpack in England's expanding Super League.
The 34-year-old, who has represented New Zealand in both rugby union and rugby league, announced his decision Friday in a statement released by New Zealand Rugby.
"I have been privileged and blessed to have been given so many opportunities in New Zealand rugby, starting with Canterbury back in 2010, as well as the Crusaders and Chiefs, Counties Manukau and, of course, the Blues and All Blacks," Williams said. "I'd like to thank all those fans in New Zealand and around the world who have supported me."
Williams' deal with the newly-formed Wolfpack is reported to be worth as much as $10 million over two years, making it the biggest deal ever signed in either rugby union or rugby league.
The Toronto club is reported to have a shopping list of top players which also includes the England rugby union stars Manu Tuilagi and Ben Te'o and Australian league star Valentine Holmes.
Williams first made his name in Australia's National Rugby League, becoming one of its highest-profile players before switching to rugby union in 2008 when he joined the French club Toulon.
He was first picked for the All Blacks in 2010 and was a member of the team which won the World Cup in New Zealand in 2011. He returned to rugby league in 2013 as a member of the Sydney Roosters team which won the NRL premiership.
Williams then rejoined the All Blacks and won a second World Cup in 2015. He was a member of the New Zealand team which finished third at the recent World Cup in Japan.
While he has been a major celebrity in rugby union, Williams is also a polarizing figure. He has been adored by many fans but scorned by others for a perceived lack of loyalty.
In rugby union Williams played variously for Toulon, the Christchurch-based Crusaders, Hamilton-based Chiefs and Auckland-based Blues. He was sometimes criticized as an opportunist, always looking for a new deal.
His test appearances in recent years have been mostly off the bench and have become more sporadic because of injuries.
While he brought some skills from rugby league to rugby union, he lacked many of the basic attributes expected in an international rugby union center.
"I never dreamed that I'd play in the black jersey for 10 years playing alongside some of the legends of the game and I'm grateful for the support of so many people in helping me grow as a footy player over that time," Williams said. "I've enjoyed every moment being with the brothers and that will be the biggest thing I will miss: the camaraderie and fun with my fellow players and being privileged to suit up with them and go out and do what we love."
New Zealand Rugby head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum praised Williams for his integrity.
"Sonny has been a leader for other players and New Zealanders, demonstrating how a high public profile can generate good through promoting positive messages and highlighting social issues," Lendrum said. "He has also demonstrated a remarkable ability to express deep compassion and generosity for people in need."
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