Sonny Bill Williams' opposition to betting has been respected.
Sonny Bill Williams' opposition to betting has been respected.

Sonny Bill granted permission to black out betting sponsor

SONNY Bill Williams will be allowed to cover up the Super League main sponsor's logo due to his opposition to betting.

The 34-year-old former All Black, who converted to Islam in 2009 and has often spoken about his devotion to his faith, is the competition's biggest recruit for 2020, having signed a two-year deal with promoted Toronto Wolfpack.

League chief executive Robert Elstone says a compromise has been agreed with Betfred, who have sponsored the competition since 2017 and last season signed a new, record contract taking them to the end of 2021.

Speaking at the season launch at Headingley, Elstone said: "We suspected it might be an issue but it only really surfaced five or six days ago and Betfred have taken it on, considered it and come up with the right answer and one that works for all parties.

"I'm really pleased, they showed a progressive, pragmatic approach to this."

Williams covered up a Bank of New Zealand logo on his Auckland Blues shirt when playing Super Rugby.

Sonny Bill Williams at the launch of the Super Rugby season. Picture:George Wood/Getty Images
Sonny Bill Williams at the launch of the Super Rugby season. Picture:George Wood/Getty Images

It later emerged that he was exercising a "conscientious objection" clause in his contract, telling New Zealand Rugby he did not want to wear the logos of banks, alcohol brands or gambling sponsors.

The signing of Williams and the arrival of his Toronto side in the top flight has electrified rugby league in the UK.

The tournament is being labelled as the most exciting ever, with several big names featuring in the 2020 competition.

SBW has been working hard on his fitness ahead of his return to rugby league. Picture: Matthew Pover
SBW has been working hard on his fitness ahead of his return to rugby league. Picture: Matthew Pover

Wigan and Warrington kick off the season on Thursday with Williams in line to make his debut for Toronto on Sunday, February 2 against Castleford.

Williams rubbed shoulders with many former teammates and NRL rivals at the season launch in Leeds on Friday, including former Sydney Roosters James Maloney and Shaun Kenny-Dowall, George Burgess and Gareth Widdop.

Williams and Maloney, who has signed for French side Catalans, jousted playfully on stage at a packed press conference with the former NSW playmaker teasing the New Zealander about his $5 million contract.

"I remember the last time he left he said he'd never come back to league because in rugby he can make seven tackles and that's in a big game," Maloney said.

"Now he's got to come back, play in the back row, make 15 hit-ups and 25 tackles, but I guess when that kind of pay cheque is thrown at you forget about all that contact."

Williams maintains he's grateful at 34 to still be in a position to play at a high level, after five years in the 15-man code with the All Blacks.

"I am just really excited to come back to the game I grew up playing," he said.

James Maloney will also be in action in the Super League. Picture: George Wood/Getty Images
James Maloney will also be in action in the Super League. Picture: George Wood/Getty Images

"I feel in tip-top shape and ready to go and I am just excited to get amongst it, especially against Catalans when I can run at Jimmy."

Williams admits his new side wouldl not see the best of him at the start of the season but said the residual knowledge of his return to league with the Roosters in 2013 would stand him in good stead.

"I know I will be rusty coming back," he said.

"I am just training to build my season on hard work and then as it progresses hopefully I can sprinkle a bit of my magic on the team."

Burgess will play without his brothers Sam, Luke and twin Tom for the first time after leaving South Sydney to join Wigan and is looking forward to being his own man.

"It's nice in a way to break away and forge my own path and create your own identity in the squad," Burgess said.

"That's been a first for me.

"It was like the first day at school, meeting your new friends and I have enjoyed that."

Elstone also spoke about Toronto's request for salary cap relief for their first season in the top flight, admitting it was "crazy" that the situation had still to be resolved less than a week before the big kick-off.

"They're having those discussions primarily with the Rugby Football League who essentially operate the cap on Super League's behalf," the former Everton chief executive said.

"I am aware of discussions and some proposals which really now have to be ratified and shared with the clubs We'll see where that gets to.

"I think what we have to do is find the right solution for the club but equally respect the cap that's in place."

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