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SBW: A timeline of his journey to greatness

From a precocious teenage talent to a dual international, Sonny Bill Williams has captivated fans like few others during a remarkable 16-year professional career.

His ride hasn't been without its bumps and scrapes but Williams has ascended to become a world-renowned sporting colossus.

After the announcement that he will return to the sport where he made his name by joining the Toronto Wolfpack in the Super League, reflects on Williams's rise to superstardom.

Dream debut NRL season - 2004

Williams made a barnstorming entrance to the NRL with the Canterbury Bulldogs as a much-hyped 19-year-old, scoring a try in a 48-14 win over Parramatta at Sydney's Olympic Stadium.

After just five first-grade matches, he became New Zealand's youngest player when he faced Australia in the April Anzac Test. SBW came off the bench in the 37-10 loss.

A look back at the 2004 Grand Final

Having returned from an ankle injury to establish himself as an interchange weapon, Williams capped a dream rookie year with a premiership as the Bulldogs beat the Roosters 16-13 in the grand final.

The walkout - 2008

Overcoming injuries to cement his status as one of the game's brightest talents, the back-rower agreed to a five-year deal with Canterbury worth a reported $400,000 per season in 2007.

Williams would controversially break that contract in July 2008.

Sonny Bill Williams celebrates the 2004 grand final win.
Sonny Bill Williams celebrates the 2004 grand final win. ©NRL Photos

Having become disgruntled at the club, he linked with polarising manager Khoder Nasser and dramatically fled the country to join French rugby club Toulon on a big-money deal.

Canterbury were incensed by their marquee man's bombshell defection and the ugly matter only ended when Williams agreed to pay a $750,000 compensation fee to the club.

Williams later said he regretted how the drama played out.

All Blacks debut and World Cup glory - 2010-11

Leaving Toulon in June 2010, Williams returned to his homeland to play rugby union, making his anticipated All Blacks debut against England in November.

Williams joined Super Rugby outfit the Crusaders in 2011 and ultimately lost the final to the Queensland Reds.

But he achieved union's ultimate prize later that year as part of the World Cup-winning All Blacks team.

Williams also stepped up his budding heavyweight boxing ambitions in 2011 - winning his third and fourth professional fights. 

Rugby league return - 2013

After stints with union clubs Waikato Chiefs and Panasonic Wild Knights, Williams returned to the NRL to honour a handshake agreement with Sydney Roosters chairman Nick Politis. 

Any doubts about the back-rower's impact were erased as he inspired the Roosters to the title. They beat Manly 26-18 in the grand final.

Sonny Bill Williams after the Roosters won the 2013 grand final.
Sonny Bill Williams after the Roosters won the 2013 grand final. ©NRL Photos

In his awaited first match against his former team the Bulldogs in round six, Williams scored two tries to ice a 38-0 victory.

He represented New Zealand in the 2013 World Cup to conclude the year, losing to Australia in the final.

SBW helped the Roosters to the preliminary final in 2014 but he couldn't be swayed to remain in the 13-man code for good.

Two-time world champion - 2015

Williams started 2015 with a bang, defeating Chauncy Welliver in his seventh pro boxing bout to preserve his unblemished record.

He then transitioned back to rugby union seamlessly when he re-joined the Chiefs, before tasting World Cup glory again as the All Blacks defeated Australia 34-17.

The centre selflessly gave away his gold medal to an excited 14-year-old fan who was tackled by a security guard as he ran onto the field during the celebrations.

The gesture earned Williams the 2015 Panathlon International Fair Play Award.

Sonny Bill Williams tries to evade the Australian defence in 2004.
Sonny Bill Williams tries to evade the Australian defence in 2004. ©NRL Photos

Record rugby league swansong

Injuries have plagued Williams in recent times, including an Achilles issue that cruelled his 2016 rugby sevens Olympic campaign.

He made it to this year's Rugby World Cup despite the concerns over his body but the All Blacks couldn't defend their crown to claim a third straight tournament.

Now he will enter the next chapter of his incredible career after agreeing to a lucrative two-year deal with the Toronto Wolfpack, who have earned entry to the Super League for the 2020 season, arguably the biggest signings coup in Super League history.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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