By Ross Heppenstall
Sonny Bill Williams has held face-to-face talks with Toronto Wolfpack head coach Brian McDermott in Japan about a move to the newly-promoted Super League club.
The Daily Telegraph has been told that McDermott watched the former Canterbury and Sydney Roosters second row play in New Zealand’s World Cup semifinal-defeat by England in Yokohama on Saturday.
The pair met over the next two days and talks were described as “very positive”, with Williams now pondering a lucrative offer to return to the code where he made his name.
Toronto are aiming to make a major impression following their elevation to British rugby league’s top flight and Williams is No 1 on their wish list.
• Sonny Bill Williams’ reported $9.7m post-World Cup offer
• Sonny Bill Williams calls for New Zealand Rugby to consider a Pacific Island or Māori coach for All Blacks gig
• How Sonny Bill Williams sparked an All Blacks attacking revolution
• All Blacks midfielder Sonny Bill Williams linked to coaching role with NRL club Sydney Roosters
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Williams has reportedly been offered a staggering $9.7m to sign with the Wolfpack for two years.
This would make him the highest-paid player in the history of league and union.
Earlier this month, McDermott confirmed initial talks had been held with the 34-year-old’s representatives.
He said then: “If we had someone like him it would raise the profile of rugby league in Canada and – Toronto Wolfpack.
“That would be great for us, but I would quickly add that he would have to be good as well.
“I don’t just mean world-class headline-grabbing, but someone who is willing to make those tackles from marker, do the ugly stuff, have his nose bent and do the warrior-like performances week in and week out that some of these superstar players have in their game -already. I’m going to make sure that he’s tough enough as well.”
Toronto’s director of rugby, Brian Noble, is overseeing the club’s recruitment and told BBC Radio 5 Live’s rugby league podcast: “His agent, I would say, has probably been in contact with many clubs.
“If he is leaving the All Blacks, I am confident there are two or three NRL clubs that are in there battling to secure his services.”
Williams, who previously won 12 caps for New Zealand in league, still has one game left at the World Cup as the All Blacks take on Wales in the third-place play-off on Friday.
Meanwhile, Warrington forward Joe Philbin looks set to make his Great Britain debut after being drafted into the squad to take on New Zealand in Auckland on Saturday.
Philbin replaces St Helens prop Luke Thompson, who damaged a rib in last weekend’s defeat against Tonga.
Oliver Gildart (shoulder) also misses out while Lachlan Coote has been dropped and replaced by St Helens team-mate Jonny Lomax at fullback.
New Zealand have recalled half-back Kieran Foran after a two-year absence in place of Shaun Johnson.