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Who is David Argyle? Meet the billionaire mining magnate bankrolling a rugby league revolution that could take the best players out of Australia

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 8/11/2019 Nic White

A billionaire mining magnate is trying to change Australian rugby league forever by poaching the country's best players to crack the American market.

David Argyle, 58, the majority owner of Toronto Wolfpack, has already claimed a huge scalp by signing cross-code star Sonny Bill Williams to a $10 million deal.

The Canadian team is now targeting failed NFL convert Valentine Holmes and would have tried to sign Billy Slater if he hadn't retired last year.

a man wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Billionaire Australian mining magnate David Argyle, 58, is trying to change Australian rugby league forever by poaching the country's best players to crack the American market © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Billionaire Australian mining magnate David Argyle, 58, is trying to change Australian rugby league forever by poaching the country's best players to crack the American market

Toronto last month made it to the top-level European Super League, just three years after it started competing in lower divisions in 2017. 

Mr Argyle's audacious bid to shake up world rugby league started at the University of Michigan, where the Perth man earned his MBA, and played collegiate rugby union.  

Pictures: The incredible sporting story of New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams

But setting up a union team to compete in European leagues was too difficult, so he formed Wolfpack with Canadian businessman Eric Perez in 2014.

Because rugby league is played almost exclusively in Australia, New Zealand, northern England and the south of France, it was more willing to innovate.

The league's 40 teams unanimously approved its first transatlantic team and Mr Argyle was soon entertaining fans at the sushi bar he owns in Toronto. 

'We're not shy in saying we want to be a global rugby brand built around a club,' he said last year.

Sonny Bill Williams on a football field: The majority owner of Toronto Wolfpack, has already claimed a huge scalp by signing cross-code star Sonny Bill Williams to a $10 million deal © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited The majority owner of Toronto Wolfpack, has already claimed a huge scalp by signing cross-code star Sonny Bill Williams to a $10 million deal a screenshot of a cell phone: Williams tweeted his enthusiasm for moving his family across the world for his new team © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Williams tweeted his enthusiasm for moving his family across the world for his new team

Wolfpack made it out of the third division in its first season and just missed out on promotion to the Super League last year, but controversy wasn't far away.

Earlier this year he was forced to 'fire himself' as chairman and chief executive after making a racist remark to an opposition player after a match in April.

Congo-born Swinton Lions player Jose Kenga said when he approached Mr Argyle, the man asked him: 'Do they allow black people in Swinton?'

Kenga said when he confronted Mr Argyle about his comment, he simply laughed it off and handed him a drink token.

'I have never felt so little in my life and can't believe that people can still have such a racist mind,' Kenga said on Twitter afterwards.

a group of people sitting in front of a crowd: Toronto last month made it to the top-level European Super League just three years after it started competing in lower divisions in 2017 © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Toronto last month made it to the top-level European Super League just three years after it started competing in lower divisions in 2017

Mr Argyle made a grovelling public apology and was fined £7,500 by the Rugby Football League for his 'unacceptable language'.

'I understand the unwitting racist connotations of what I said and the distress caused to Jose,' he said in his apology.

'If any other member of our Wolfpack family had made that comment I made, on balance, regardless of context and environment, I would have fired them. Therefore that also applies to me, so I am firing myself as chairman and CEO.

'I leave with a heavy heart as I have disgraced rugby and my family, which I love.' 

Though he resigned from his official positions, Mr Argyle continued to be the controlling force in the club and its main financial backer.

His pursuit of Sonny Bill Williams began three years earlier when he and Mr Perez were discussing how to capture the Canadian public's imagination with a big splash.

When they learned he planned to leave rugby union after the World Cup, they knew it was time to pounce.

a man wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Mr Argyle grew up in Perth, but studied in the US, where he played collegiate rugby union © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Mr Argyle grew up in Perth, but studied in the US, where he played collegiate rugby union

Acquiring one of the biggest rugby stars in the world, even at age 34, had the desired effect this week - it was splashed across the front page of the NZ Herald.

The Toronto star even declared Williams a 'one-man economic stimulus package' in a full page of coverage.

The deal was soon likened to Los Angeles Galaxy signing David Beckham away from Real Madrid in 2007, which did wonders for U.S. soccer.

Mr Perez embraced the comparison, saying the deal could be just as 'pivotal for flicking the switch for the whole continent'.

'I think a move like that helps to get to the States easier because in the States they really respect money and fame and razzamatazz, and that's what this is,' he said. 

'If we can pull this off the sport will never be the same.'

a group of people on a stage in front of a crowd: David Argyle and then-captain Craig Hall (right) are seen in 2017 holding © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited David Argyle and then-captain Craig Hall (right) are seen in 2017 holding

To further serve this, the team created reality TV show Last Tackle where players who just missed out on the NFL go through a boot camp to make it in rugby league - all while living together - similar to the NFL's Hard Knocks.

Wolfpack's big dreams are bankrolled by the billions of dollars the Australian tycoon made as a mining investor all over the world. 

He ran the Christmas Island phosphate mine in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and helped rehabilitate the damage mining did to the island.

Other mining, energy and agricultural projects took him to South America, Africa, Central Asia and Southeast Asia.

Later he joined hedge funds like Forbes & Manhattan Group and is now executive co-chairman of Brazil Potash, which plans to provide 30 per cent of Brazil's fertilizer. 

Mr Argyle is already planning his next move, to buy a financially struggling English team and move it to Liverpool, and help open more in the U.S.

'I can see expansion rugby league teams in North America in a few years, cities such as Philadelphia. It is a wonderful sport,' he said in 2017. 

As more teams open backed by his deep pockets, Australian NRL teams could increasingly be looted of their best stars. 

Sonny Bill Williams et al. standing in a room: The pursuit of Sonny Bill Williams (pictured with his family) began three years before he was signed © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited The pursuit of Sonny Bill Williams (pictured with his family) began three years before he was signed Read more

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