Sonny Bill Williams took up boxing to help pay $1m debt after rugby league exit

As far as acrimonious exits go, Sonny Bill Williams ' first departure from rugby league was about as bitter as they come.

Considered by many to be the greatest NRL prospect of his generation, Williams was only 18 months into a five-year contract worth upwards of $2.5million when he left the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs on short notice in 2008.

The Bulldogs weren't made aware their star had left midway through the season until his move to French rugby union outfit Toulon—coached at the time by former All Black Tana Umaga—had been confirmed.

Not settled with simply swapping codes, Williams has also delved into boxing and made his professional debut in July 2009, the first of eight professional fights he's had to date, having yet to taste defeat.

And although it was his underhanded departure from league that led the dual-code talisman to the ring in the first place, Williams has new inspiration to continue fighting now his rugby days are behind him.

"When I first left rugby league and went to rugby union, I was in $1m debt," he told Sky Sports. "To get out of my contract I had to pay a lot of money, which added up to about $1m.

"So my good friend who's a three-time world boxing champion, Anthony Mundine, asked me to jump on the card [his 2009 debut against Gary Gurr] because I owed him the money essentially.

"So my boxing career started off just through necessity, but it lit a fire in me I haven't been able to put out. I know I'm 36 now, but I'm very committed to doing boxing and giving it my all for the next 24 months, because I've done everything in rugby and rugby league."

Williams improved his boxing record to 8-0 in June when he beat Waikato Falefehi via unanimous decision, though his first fight in more than six years came close to ending in tears following an early knockdown.

Having announced his retirement from the field in March, however, the two-time Rugby World Cup -winner (2011, 2015) is hoping to build more momentum inside the square circle.

Would Sonny Bill Williams have achieved more had he remained in rugby league for his entire career? Let us know in the comments section.

Although his wages at Toulon likely weren't to be sniffed at, it was a 2008 loan from Mundine—understood to be in the region of $750,000—that helped Williams overcome the debts that came with his NRL departure.

Mundine himself made the switch to boxing from rugby league, where he represented the Brisbane Broncos and St. George Illawarra Dragons, as well as New South Wales in the 1999 State of Origin series.

And like Williams, Mundine is also a practising Muslim and has spoken of the "brotherhood" he shares with his fellow convert, telling The Daily Telegraph in 2017 that the pair would "literally die for each other."

It's against a Muslim's faith to make money from money, meaning borrowing from banks or paying interest on loans is not permitted.

Just as well Williams has been such a success in sports, winning two NRL Premierships with the Bulldogs and the Sydney Roosters, not to mention a Super Rugby crown with the Chiefs and 58 New Zealand caps.

He can add boxing to that list as well, it seems, but what started as a means of making ends meet has transformed into a much more personal passion.

"I'm really focused on it [boxing], and now before I walk off into the sunset, I want to give boxing a good crack because I've only done it for six or eight weeks and I've seen the improvement that I've had in that time. So I just want to see where I'm at in 24 months," he concluded.

Although he's yet to arrange an opponent for his next boxing bout, it seems certain his foe will be facing a Williams with single-minded focus on the sport and a different attitude to his former self.

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