“I’ve just been painting the gym at Keighley Cougars. I’m not sure you’d see Sonny Bill doing that!”
Joking aside, Jake Webster is delighted to hear his famous former New Zealand team-mate is heading for Super League.
Toronto Wolfpack are set to pay double World Cup-winning All Black Sonny Bill Williams a staggering £5m over two years to make him the highest-paid player in the history of either code.
It will be money well spent in the eyes of Webster, the former Hull KR and Castleford Tigers centre who is receiving considerably less in the twilight of his own excellent career after joining League 1 part-timers Keighley.
“Sonny Bill’s going to be the biggest thing the sport has ever seen in the northern hemisphere,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“He’s going to be great for the game and will put bums on seats.
The pay packet (£5m) is well deserved. I don’t think anyone can baulk at that. If they do, they don’t know what they’re on about.Keighley Cougars’ Jake Webster
“Whether you have heard about rugby league or not, people will probably know who Sonny Bill Williams is.
“I’ve been speaking to a few people these last few days who don’t really go to games – but they have said they will go to watch him. For Toronto, being such a big sporting city, they will absolutely love him.”
Predictably, there has been plenty of negativity about the size of the gifted 34-year-old’s wages.
But Webster – who also faced Williams during his formative years in the NRL – insisted: “The pay packet is well deserved.
“I don’t think anyone can baulk at that. If they do, they don’t know what they’re on about. He’ll bring more to the game than what he’s getting. The number of jerseys he sells will cover half of it.
“If you get offered five million pounds to play rugby league, you are doing something right to deserve it. Good on him, I say.
“I’m just happy I’m not playing Super League any more! All the boys here are dreading it as they think they’ll end up getting smashed. I’ve spoken to a few of the Cas boys and they’ll be looking forward to that first game...”
Castleford are promoted Toronto’s first opponents in Super League on February 2.
Webster, 36, played on the wing alongside back-row Williams for New Zealand in the 2007 ANZAC Test against Australia.
“I can’t remember much about that game other than we had a bit of a touch-up,” he recalled, Webster’s former Castleford team-mate Benny Roberts also playing as the Kiwis fell 30-6 in Brisbane.
“It’s a long time ago. I can’t remember last week but I remember coming up against Sonny Bill at the (Canterbury) Bulldogs when he was just a young pup.
“You could see he had every attribute a footballer ever needed and more: size, speed, agility, footwork and skill, all that wrapped up in one.
“Those sorts of players only come along maybe once every 20 or 30 years.
“Playing against him was daunting; playing with him was just unbelievable. Stood next to him, you knew he could do anything and to be in camp with him was brilliant. He was only young but you knew he was destined for greatness.”
With his potent mix of shuddering defensive hits and wonderful offloading ability, Williams did, indeed, become a great and in both codes, too.
He won the 2004 NRL Grand Final with Canterbury before switching to union four years later, playing as a centre as he helped the All Blacks to World Cup success in 2011 and 2015.
In between, he returned to league and helped Sydney Roosters finish top two years running, winning another Grand Final in 2013 when he also helped the Kiwis to the World Cup final.
Webster, who played more than 100 games for Hull KR before his six-year stint at Wheldon Road, did enjoy some success against Williams, though.
In 2006, he helped Melbourne Storm to a famous 16-12 win over the Bulldogs, claiming two crucial tries in the last six minutes.
“But Sonny Bill scored one try on me and caused all sorts of problems to begin with,” recalled Webster, who lined up alongside Kangaroos legends Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk.
“We were undefeated at home but that’s just the sort of impact he could have on games.
“I did score my second with about 10 seconds to go to win it but we needed to use our ‘get out of jail free’ card; Sonny Bill and the Bulldogs almost did us and it’ll be great to see him now doing his stuff in Super League.
“I’m sure other big names will follow to Toronto now as well as they’ll want to play with him.”
Williams, who has just played with the All Blacks in the World Cup in Japan, is set to be unveiled as a Wolfpack player in London next week with the club reportedly also set to bid for England union centre Manu Tuilagi.
Webster, meanwhile, is enjoying life at Keighley after leaving Bradford Bulls last month.
He said: “It’s great. I’m getting involved in the commercial side of things at the moment working under our general manager Lisa (Beckwith-Kinard).
“But now we’ve started pre-season I’m getting involved with the coaching, too, so I’m getting to learn both sides to see which fits best for when I do finish playing.
“I’m happy to be on board and grateful that Bradford let me take the opportunity.”