New Zealand

Sonny Bill show goes on ... and on

Thu, 10 Oct 2013 08:29
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I really struggled with what happened
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The Sonny Bill Williams saga, an ever-present sideshow in Rugby Union and Rugby League, took a new and intriguing twist on Thursday.

Less than two days after his stunning Rugby League World Cup back-flip - and hours after being named the Roosters' Player of the Year - Williams is back in the arms of Rugby Union.

The New Zealand Rugby Union confirmed that Williams and manager Khoder Nasser met with Chiefs coach Dave Rennie, assistant coach Wayne Smith and the NZRU's General Manager of Professional Rugby Neil Sorenson in Sydney.

No details had been finalised, and no further comment was available, a NZRU spokeswoman said.

However, there were reports Williams signed paperwork during the lunch with Nasser, later swapping forms with Sorensen outside the eatery.

Sources in New Zealand have indicated Williams is poised to sign a lucrative three-year deal reuniting him with Super Rugby franchise the Chiefs from next season.

The NZRU will top up the Chiefs' payment.

It would allow Williams a season back in Rugby Union before the All Blacks' 2015 World Cup defence and pave the way for an appearance at the Rio Olympics' Sevens tournament a year later.

Williams is set to announce his return following the Kiwis' Rugby League World Cup campaign in the UK, which could pocket him around NZ&$50,000 if the New Zealanders go all the way.

The dual international is also expected to sign up for a NZ$1-million New Zealand heavyweight title bout to be staged in the off-season.

It is understood he is guaranteed at least NZ$200,000, even if the fight does not go ahead.

Nasser and Williams appeared relaxed and happy throughout Thursday's lunch and went to no great lengths to conceal their identity.

The group was clearly visible from Brighton Beach as they sat outside on a day where the temperature nudged 40°C.

The previous day Williams collected the Jack Gibson Medal at the Roosters' presentation ceremony, capping a sensational return to Rugby League which includes a Premiership victory.

He thanked teammates for their contribution and for warmly welcoming him back to the game, adding he needed space to work out his next move and was torn between the two codes.

Earlier in the week Williams caused a massive furore by declaring he wanted to play in the Rugby League World Cup after the New Zealand squad had been announced.

Kiwi selectors accommodated Williams' change of heart, dumping Melbourne youngster Tohu Harris to make way for the superstar back row forward.

New Zealand Rugby League officials are yet to comment on Williams' seemingly inevitable return to Rugby Union next year.

Williams, 28, played seven Tests for the Kiwis before his controversial departure from the Canterbury Bulldogs in mid-2008 to switch to Rugby Union in France.

He went on to become part of the All Blacks' Rugby Union World Cup-winning campaign in 2011.

He also won a Super Rugby title with the Chiefs last year and had a key part in the Roosters' NRL grand final victory on Sunday.


* Meanwhile All Black Sevens coach Gordon Tietjens said Williams could be a great asset in New Zealand's campaign for gold at the Rio Olympics, but must not waver in his commitment to the cause.

Although a roaring success in both Rugby League and Rugby Union, former All Black Williams has courted controversy with his abrupt career changes and created a storm this week by back-flipping on his plan to sit out the Rugby League World Cup.

Williams' change of heart and his late inclusion into the defending champion Kiwis squad at the expense of Melbourne Storm youngster Tohu Harris has sparked criticism in New Zealand that the player had become bigger than the team.

Tietjens was not among the critics but conceded the saga had been hard to digest.

"I really struggled with what happened," Tietjens said.

"I feel in some ways for Sonny, but once he's made the decision not to make himself available, well, it should have been done and dusted.

"But the change has been made and it must be so, so tough on that (Melbourne) player."

Williams has shown disdain for long-term commitments since sensationally walking away from the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2008 to go play Rugby Union in France, while in the second year of a five-year deal with the Sydney-based National Rugby League (NRL) team.

The 28-year-old has signed a series of one-year deals, which have seen him return to New Zealand to play for two local Super Rugby franchises and clinch a World Cup with the All Blacks on home soil in 2011, while dabbling in professional boxing on the side.

"Sonny Bill Williams would make the transition to Sevens, there's no question about that," he said.

"Mainly because he fits the culture that we live. Not only is he a humble guy, but he's got a great work ethic.

"He works very hard, sets himself challenges and goals and goes out and gets them. He obviously has the work ethic, the skill-set, and is a real athlete. He could obviously be a very, very good player."

Sources: NZ Newswire, Reuters & Fox Sports

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