Sonny Bill Williams: 'In my life, I have been through a lot tougher situations than losing a game of rugby'

Ross Heppenstall
The Telegraph
Sonny Bill Williams says life is better with a glass half-full mentality - PA
Sonny Bill Williams says life is better with a glass half-full mentality - PA

Sonny Bill Williams could be forgiven for still nursing painful wounds from New Zealand’s World Cup semi-final defeat by England less than three weeks ago. The chance to lift the trophy for a third time spurned; an undignified end to a glorious rugby union career for arguably the greatest cross-code player of all time.

Asked to sum up his anguish at his unveiling as a Toronto Wolfpack player at Emirates Stadium on Thursday, the 34-year-old looked genuinely surprised.

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A two-year contract worth around £5m with the Super League newcomers, who are threatening to change the face of British rugby league, is proving a welcome healing balm.

“In my journey in life, I have been through a lot tougher situations and hurdles than losing a bloody game of rugby,” said Auckland-born Williams, who converted to Islam in 2009. “I grew up in a housing commission [council] house with no wallpaper and that taught me a lot about myself.

“It instilled a fierce competitive streak and made me want to succeed. I always had this purpose that I would play on TV and buy a house for my mum.  That made me get up and train twice a day from the age of 13; it's as simple as that.

<span>Williams may have missed out on a hat-trick of World Cups but says he has had tougher things happen to him than losing a rugby match</span> <span>Credit: Getty Images AsiaPac </span>
Williams may have missed out on a hat-trick of World Cups but says he has had tougher things happen to him than losing a rugby match Credit: Getty Images AsiaPac

“Yes, it would have been amazing to win three World Cups, but at the same time, I hang my hat on being a man of faith and what doesn’t come my way is not meant to be.

“Why worry? Yes, there are times when I get anxiety and maybe a bit stressed out. But then I can go to my happy place. I can pray and ask for guidance. I can be grateful for what I have. 

“My wife Alana and I have three kids and another on the way next year.”

That England lost to South Africa in the final was, it was suggested, a consolation of sorts for Williams.

He added: “England had great tactics coming into the semi-final based on physicality. “They won that battle and just plugged the corners but then South Africa did to them what England did to us - they beat them up.

“Seeing my good friend Siya Kolisi holding that cup, how awesome was that picture? With a glass half-full mentality you are far better off in life.”

Williams’ move has returned him to his first love and the code where he made his name, first with Canterbury Bulldogs with whom he won an NRL title in 2004 before repeating the feat with Sydney Roosters in 2013.

He is now relishing a move that will almost certainly mark the final chapter of an extraordinary career which has also seen him record seven straight professional wins as a heavyweight boxer.

Toronto's uncompromising head coach Brian McDermott, himself no slouch in the ring as a former heavyweight, flew to Japan to seal Williams' signature after attending the semi-final.

McDermott described his new marquee signing as a brand and Toronto's owner, David Argyle, has likened Williams to LeBron James and David Beckham in terms of potential commercial value.

Williams will be deployed in the back row and is undecided about whether to represent Samoa or the Kiwis in league at international level.

He said: “I don't see myself as a brand, but just as a sportsman wanting to achieve something on and off the field.

“To say that I don’t like being compared to David Beckham and LeBron James doesn’t mean I’m trying to shy away from pressure.

“It just means I don’t see myself as some big, massive star and I think it’s a good thing. “What if we are successful in opening eyes, getting some traction, and the sport takes off in North America? That will be awesome. 

“It's such a blessing that it already has me on the edge of my seat and that's how I know that it's right. 

“It could be the last hurrah, but that doesn't mean I'm here for a holiday by any means. I'm here to succeed.

“My challenge is to firstly earn the boys' respect from how I play but earn the respect of people in the club about how I am as a person and a man.”

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