New Zealand cross-code star Sonny Bill Williams is close to sealing a return to rugby league with Super League newcomers Toronto Wolfpack, Sky Sports News understands.
Williams is set to a sign a multi-million pound two-year deal with the Canadian side, which will make him the highest-paid player in the history of either code.
The 34-year-old, who was part of the All Blacks squad that last week sealed third place at rugby union’s World Cup, returns to rugby league for a third spell in the sport.
Toronto owner David Argyle set his sights on Williams two years ago and the club stepped up the chase once they secured promotion after beating Featherstone in the Million Pound Game in October.
Head coach Brian McDermott flew to Japan during the World Cup to meet with Williams’ representatives and is thought to have held face-to-face talks with the player he believes can have as big an impact on Super League as David Beckham had with Major League Soccer.
As part of the deal, Williams will make history by taking a stake in the club ahead of their move onto the stock market.
Williams will become one of two permitted marquee players, which means that only the first £150,000 of his salary will count on the cap.
The Wolfpack, who won promotion within three years of their formation, already have two marquee players in former NRL duo Ricky Leutele and Darcy Lussick but are confident of being able to accommodate Williams, who will have little difficulty adjusting to the 13-man game.
Williams played for Canterbury Bulldogs and Sydney Roosters in the NRL and was in the New Zealand team which reached the 2013 World Cup final at Old Trafford.
One of Williams’ first matches will be at the north London home of European and English champions Saracens after the club finalised their early-season “on-the-road” fixtures.
The Wolfpack are unable to play games at the Lamport Stadium until April because of the harsh Canadian winter and the unavailability of their local authority-owned stadium so have switched their first three home fixtures.
They open the season against Castleford in a double-header at Headingley on February 2 and will play champions St Helens at Allianz Stadium on February 29.