Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Nonu's not dreading return of SBW

Ma'a Nonu has shown he has the ability to withstand Sonny Bill Williams' challenge for the No12 jersey and will be keen to build on a good season with the Blues. Photo / Getty Images
Ma'a Nonu has shown he has the ability to withstand Sonny Bill Williams' challenge for the No12 jersey and will be keen to build on a good season with the Blues. Photo / Getty Images

The shadow of Sonny Bill Williams is once again looming — his thumb injury while playing for the Sydney Roosters might hasten his return to the All Blacks — but it's a challenge Ma'a Nonu appears well equipped to deal with.

Williams will return to New Zealand to play for the Chiefs and All Blacks once the NRL season finishes and is a chance to go on the end-of-year tour depending on his physical condition and state of mind after two tough years across the Tasman.

He helped the Roosters win the title in 2013, and they are still in with a chance this year, currently in fourth place.

If they fail to make the playoffs, Williams' season will finish next month. If they make the final, it will finish in October, only a few weeks before the All Blacks leave for their trip to Chicago, England, Scotland and Wales.

Williams' return to the rugby league field is still a fortnight away. He's already missed two matches for the Roosters, a mini-break which could have positive spinoffs for him and the All Blacks.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen revealed in the Herald on Sunday in June that Williams was a chance to make the November tour, but it depended on several issues, including how weary he was.

"There are so many variables that we will have to wait and see," he said. "Is it right for the team to bring him straight back in? Is there a need to have him straight back in?

"All of these things have to be taken into consideration and, at this time of the year, we don't know the answers."

Williams, a guest host of Channel Nine's Footy Show this week, didn't talk about the possibility of playing for the All Blacks this year but is already looking towards next year's World Cup.

"The World Cup is coming up and I want to be a part of that," Williams said. "That [returning to rugby] is the first step towards that goal but I'm definitely enjoying my time here."

Nonu showed during 2011 that he has the ability to withstand Williams' challenge for the No 12 jersey, keeping him on the reserves bench for the knockout stages of the World Cup. Now Hurricanes-bound, he will be keen to build on a good season with the Blues during the Rugby Championship, which kicks off with a Bledisloe Cup test in Sydney next Saturday.

Nonu and Conrad Smith present a vastly experienced midfield. Nonu has also shown the willingness and ability to embrace change - his kicking game showed big improvements last year - but the prospect of Williams adding his power and offloading skills to a mix which includes young charger Malakai Fekitoa is an exciting one.

Breaking down defences in the knockout stages in England and Wales next year could be key and Williams will add a phenomenal amount of X-factor.

Nonu, though, gets on well with Williams and tends to raise his game whenever he's around.

For Hansen, it will be a win-win situation - this year or next.

- APNZ

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