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Toronto Wolfpack star Sonny Bill Williams.

Conor McGregor returned to the UFC last month with a kick that had Donald Cerrone asleep on his feet after just 40 seconds.

Some 200 million people around the world clicked or tuned in to coverage that sub-minute Main Event.

And yet Sonny Bill Williams beat McGregor three times over without ever entering the Octagon.

Toronto Wolfpack's commercial team tracked the media exposure of Williams's signing announcement on November 6.

The BBCNew York Times, CNN, Toronto Sun and even the South China Morning Post were among some 80 media outlets that covered his Wolfpack arrival, an astounding 765 million readers consumed the seismic signing news in one form or another.

Williams is back playing league for the first time since 2014, his return a slow burn after his Wolfpack debut in their maiden Super League game on February 2.

Toronto Wolfpack star Sonny Bill Williams.
Toronto Wolfpack star Sonny Bill Williams. ©Alex Whitehead/

The 34-year-old missed last week's loss to Wigan to be in New Zealand for the birth of his fourth child Essa, flying back into the UK on Monday for a quick turnaround into Friday's clash with Warrington.

Amid the clamour of media and unprecedented focus for the English game, Williams is realistic about his progress, expecting his rugby union skin to be shed soon enough.

"My first game I watched the game back and it was like watching a rugby player trying to play league," he told

"Second game I had a league mentality, I was trying to be more confrontational. And I felt like I took some enormous steps there.

"From the outside looking in, yeah we've had three losses, but you've got to understand, this is our third year in the competition as a team and a new club.

"We'll just keep plugging away with hard work. The fruits will come."

With a media reach of 765 million before he even picked up the ball, there's promise of a decent harvest.

Particularly when he sees opportunity, and responsibility, in equal measure through the Manchester mist.

"It's an unbelievable opportunity here with Wolfpack and taking the game to North America," Williams says.

"I understand the responsibility I have to use my profile in whatever capacity I can to help grow the game.

"I hope that Super League take note of that and see the opportunities we have to do for younger players coming through and for the game to grow in such a new place."

Three months on from that signing announcement without a camera in sight on a miserable Manchester morning, the quality behind the enormous quantity of fascination with Williams is laid plain for coach Brian McDermott.

Billionaire mining magnate and club owner David Argyle wanted Williams from the outset. Despite the 34-year-old's glittering CV, McDermott wanted to scout him first.

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"Eventually I found myself in Japan having a meal with Sonny," McDermott tells of their first meeting during last year's Rugby World Cup.

"Of course I was interested in signing him but I had a few alarm bells ringing as well, because I didn't know if [Argyle] wanted the signing just for a name.

"And I had basically flown all that way to ask Sonny one question.

"'When we're injured, when we're not on form, it's raining sideways and we're not in TV. You're in the north of England and it's as far from glamorous as it gets, are you going to put your hand up to carry the ball?'

"And his response was along the lines of everything he's got from life, he's earned it. He talked about earning our respect and earning the chance to play with us.

"That was a pretty impressive way to answer that question, he could've said 'do you know who I am? Do you know what I've done?' I knew then, he's on board."

Toronto's already small roster was reduced to just 17 fit players in their last game, which ended as a third straight defeat to start their life in Super League's top tier.

And a few days later Williams finds himself on a sodden school oval at Rochdale College, the Manchester facilities Toronto have set up for the early part of the season until the Canadian winter abates.

Sonny Bill Williams greets fans after a Toronto's match against Salford.
Sonny Bill Williams greets fans after a Toronto's match against Salford. ©Alex Whitehead/

A few kids are sporting Wolfpack jackets, but their focus is bumming cigarettes rather than the $10 million cross-code superstar across the way.

"I could've stayed in New Zealand, I could've done a lot of things, gone a lot of places, but this opportunity arose," Williams says simply of his many career options late last year.

"And obviously, starting out the mountain looks a bit like Everest. But I pride myself on taking up these challenges.

"This was no different. Obviously the contract was awesome and I'm very, very blessed to be in this position.

"But my family was a big consideration, moving them to the other side of the world is a big deal. My wife and I decided to do that together, we decided to try something new."

Toronto take another small step in their trudge up the mountain again this week, chasing their first top-tier win against a strong Warrington side.

By April the Wolfpack returns to Canada and hosting games on their own patch.

Club memberships are already up towards the 2000-strong mark, increasing four-fold on last year's tally.

The 10,000-crowd that packed out their home ground when they secured Super League promotion in October is expected to be matched with increased regularity thanks to Williams.

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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