Don’t call me David Beckham or LeBron James, says Super League’s new arrival Sonny Bill Williams

Sonny Bill Williams signs for Toronto Wolfpack for season 2020 at The Emirates Stadium, North London.
Sonny Bill Williams signs for Toronto Wolfpack for season 2020 at The Emirates Stadium, North London.
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New Toronto Wolfpack star Sonny Bill Williams has admitted he is not comfortable being talked about as a brand or likened to David Beckham and LeBron James.

Upon signing for the Canadian club on November 7, chief executive Bob Hunter said: “Sonny is a phenomenal athlete and we believe he is rugby’s LeBron James and his addition to our league is comparable to when David Beckham joined LA Galaxy.” On Thursday, Williams faced the media for the first time at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium alongside Toronto head coach Brian McDermott and CEO Hunter.

The 34-year-old is expected to increase the popularity of the sport and Super League and is aware of his standing, but he is more focused on his role in the team.

“For me to say, I don’t like being compared to David Beckham and LeBron James, that doesn’t mean I’m trying to shy away from pressure, it just means I don’t see myself as some big, massive star like that,” Williams said.

“It probably doesn’t always sit too comfortably with me (being called a brand). But I understand for us to get the best traction and move forward in what we’re trying to achieve off the field, then so be it. It is what it is.

“Probably when I was a youngster I cared a lot about what people would think. ‘Oh look at this d***head.’ All that kind of stuff would affect me a lot. Whereas now, man, I have to go home to screaming kids, so it’s all good.”

After signing a two-year contract, thought to be worth in excess of £5m, the former New Zealand centre conceded this could be the final chapter of an illustrious career.

He said: “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.”

The two-time World Cup winner was expected to remain in rugby union but revealed the opportunity from Toronto was too good to turn down, especially after speaking with owner David Argyle and former Leeds Rhinos coach McDermott.

Williams was told about the offer from Wolfpack the day after New Zealand had lost in the semi-finals to England in Japan.

Defeat prevented the All Blacks from lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy for a third consecutive tournament and he admitted: “I would have loved to have won a third World Cup, of course.

“In my journey in life, I have been through a lot tougher situations and hurdles than losing a bloody game of football.”