Sonny Bill Williams deserves every cent of his obscene contract with the Toronto Wolfpack.
Finally, Money Bill Williams has lived up to his name.
Or, rather, the smarmy title foisted upon him by the less highbrow division of the Aussie media.
If reports of the value of his two-year Canadian retirement package are correct – namely a $10M package of cash, incentives and an ownership stake in the Toronto Wolfpack – then Williams will have indeed entered a pay bracket worthy of a little petty jealousy.
For context, $NZ5 million a year is roughly equivalent to what the CEO of a major bank pulls in – but it’s still $NZ3.3 million light of what Theo Spierings received in 2017 for doing a really awesome job running Fonterra.
When people start pulling in that sort of cash, some of us rightly get a bit arsey. Can anyone really do such a great job at anything that they deserve that sort of cash, we chunter?
And the answer, of course, is no. There’s simply no way anyone who chases a leather egg around a rectangle – or makes dubious investment decisions on behalf of the nation’s cow cockies – should earn over 50 times what a teacher or nurse receives for their entirely more worthy efforts.
But, in the parallel universe of professional sport, the answer, of course, is a resounding ‘yes’.
For a club attempting to establish a bridgehead for a floundering professional sport in an entirely new market, $BW’s star power is worth every dime.
It’s the same reason LA Galaxy signed an over the hill, down the other side and entering a subterranean lair David Beckham for megabucks – something the Wolfpack’s cashed up owner David Argyle explicitly stated when he began dangling his chequebook in front of global rugby’s 47th best player.
It’s also kinda the reason the Breakers signed Glen Rice, which just goes to show that name recognition as a primary indicator of value doesn’t always work out.
With Williams, the Wolfpack at least know they are getting an upstanding citizen. But will he prove worth the investment?
Hard to say. Even at 34 and slowed by recurring injuries, Williams will comfortably be among the better players in Super League. But he won’t be the best player – or even perhaps among the top ten.
Because of a rule allowing clubs to pay two players as much as they like and only have GBP150,000 of the contract count against the salary cap, Williams’ salary is higher than the figure allowed to be paid to the entire teams he will face.
Obviously, there is no way Williams’ on-field effort could ever live up to his pay packet. Given there’s a chance that team-mates who are getting paid in petrol vouchers and beaver pelts might feel a little disgruntled at their comparative valuations, it’s entirely possible signing SBW could be the catalyst for the Wolfpack tearing itself apart.
But I wouldn’t bet on that. Because Williams’ team-mates will likely be able to spot what the Auusie tabloids who’ve blissfully slandered him wilfully ignore; that rather that being a cold-hearted money-grabbing mercenary, Williams is in fact a trailblazing athlete who has earned every well-deserved buck the hard way.
The money grabber slight on Williams dates back to a painfully naive Williams walking out on the Bulldogs after realising he had been manipulated into a woefully under-valued deal. That walkout in fact initially cost him plenty – but that didn’t stop the shit from sticking.
For some, Williams’ preference for short term deals and regular code switches has been further damning evidence of a mercenary streak. The reality, though, couldn’t be further from the truth. If he had been truly motivated by money, Williams would surely have opted for the financial security provided by a long-term deal – just as Jason Taumalolo did with this ten-year $10m pact with the Cowboys.
Instead, Williams was happy with one or two-year contracts that came with the not insignificant risk that the money fountain could run dry at any time courtesy of a career-ending injury.
Fortune has been kind in that regard, allowing Williams to stay healthy enough that, as the curtain slides down, he can bank one (although given his view on banks it’s not entirely clear how he’ll be stashing his well-deserved gains).
And that’s the real point here. While we can chuckle at Williams’ suggestion his move to Toronto isn’t motivated by money, it’s more than a little churlish to begrudge him his success. Whatever his chosen field, he’s always performed. A misadventure or two of youth aside, he’s behaved impeccably. And he’s built his brand masterfully.
The kid from Mt Roskill who was rejected by his hometown NRL club has become the world’s best-paid rugby player in either code. He really is Money Bill Williams. Which is exactly what he deserves to be.