Marquee man: Sonny Bill Williams has advised New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney he is available for the Kiwis’ World Cup tilt. Photo: Getty Images
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Sonny Bill Williams has provided renewed hope that he will return to the Sydney Roosters next year after belatedly putting up his hand to help New Zealand’s World Cup defence.
Just hours after a disappointed Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney revealed that “other commitments” had ruled Williams out of his 24-man squad named on Tuesday, the All Blacks superstar phoned him to say he wanted to play in the tournament.
Thinking of England: Sonny Bill Williams. Photo: Getty Images
Williams’s decision is a massive boost for the Kiwis and World Cup organisers, but more significantly for the Roosters as it suggests he has not yet committed to a return to rugby union. In fact, it is understood that Williams changed his mind as he had nothing organised beyond last Sunday night’s grand final against Manly and was therefore available to play.
Initially, the 28-year-old intended to have his first break from league, union and boxing since 2008, but he is a creature of habit and has been succesful in all his pursuits by maintaining such a busy schedule. Whichever code he chooses, Williams is expected to fight before the start of next season – but that will probably now be in January as the World Cup final at Old Trafford is on November 30.
Williams said after helping the Roosters to their first premiership since 2002 on Sunday night that he hoped to make a decision on his future before the end of the month and there has been massive speculation that he was set to return to the Chiefs.While he is expected to switch codes again to play for the All Blacks at the 2015 World Cup and rugby sevens at the 2016 Olympics, the New Zealand Rugby Union are trying to get him back for next season too and have tabled a three year deal.
However, Fairfax Media understands that Williams has genuinely not made up his mind and his backflip on World Cup availability indicates he hadn’t even fully considered that decision as his focus was on winning the NRL premiership. Having already won a Super Rugby title with the Chiefs in 2012 and a second NRL grand final title, Williams now has the opportunity to become the first player to win a World Cup in both codes after being a member of the victorious 2011 All Blacks side.
His availability will cause Kearney a headache as the Kiwis had announced their squad in Auckland on Tuesday but the players are yet to undergo fitness examinations and some are certain to be carrying injuries. Having Williams in the team will provide a massive boost in confidence for the defending world champions while tournament organisers will now be guaranteed a sell-out for New Zealand’s opening match against Samoa at St Helens on October 27.
After playing two seasons for Toulon in the Top 14 Rugby competition, Williams is also a drawcard in France and the Kiwis play the French in Avignon on November 1, as well as Papua New Guinea at Leeds a week later. The news of Williams’ availability was welcomed in the UK and New Zealand after Fairfax Media broke the story on Tuesday afternoon.
But Kearney, who flew home to Brisbane after announcing the team in Auckland, is understood to have not yet determined how to fit Williams in the squad and there was no official announcement from the NZRL.
Earlier, Kearney had began his press conference after announcing the team by referring to “the elephant in the room in terms of guys who are unavailable.”
“Sonny is unavailable due to other commitments and what they are at this stage, I’m sure we’d all like to know, but I’m sure we’ll hear about that over the next two or three weeks,” Kearney said.
“I have spoken to Sonny and his agent, Khoder [Nasser] yesterday and I’ve been working with them for quite some time in terms of his availability. Kearney said Newcastle forward Jeremy Smith was unavailable due to personal family issues, while Roosters centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall broke his jaw in Sunday’s grand final.
New Zealand team: Jesse Bromwich, Greg Eastwood, Kieran Foran, Alex Glenn, Bryson Goodwin, Tohu Harris, Josh Hoffman, Krisnan Inu, Shaun Johnson, Sam Kasiano, Thomas Leuluai, Kevin Locke, Issac Luke, Simon Mannering, Ben Matulino, Sam Moa, Jason Nightingale, Frank-Paul Nu’uausala, Frank Pritchard, Elijah Taylor, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Manu Vatuvei, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Dean Whare.