Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Stragglers to sign on dotted line this week

Sonny Bill Williams has kept his cards close to his chest. Photo / Getty Images
Sonny Bill Williams has kept his cards close to his chest. Photo / Getty Images

The last remaining All Blacks whose futures are unknown are expected to make announcements this week about their plans for 2012.

The New Zealand Rugby Union made it a key priority last year to try have all players coming off contract in 2011 to commit their futures before the World Cup.

Most of the likely squad, including the biggest names like Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Brad Thorn, Mils Muliaina and Keven Mealamu, announced their intentions earlier this year.

But a handful of players such as Sonny Bill Williams, Hosea Gear and Cory Jane are yet to say what they will be doing next year. It is understood their plans will be made public in the next two weeks, with Williams believed to be ready to sign a one-year deal to stay in New Zealand where he will probably play with the Blues.

Gear and Jane are believed to be waiting to see what happens on Tuesday with the World Cup squad announcement.

Jane has an offer from a Japanese club and will need to register with them by August 31. He has an offer from the NZRU and Hurricanes which he may accept if he's part of the World Cup squad.

Gear is not thought to be looking offshore but needs to decide whether to stay with the Hurricanes or shift south to play for the Highlanders.

Other players to sign beyond 2011 recently include Owen Franks, Richard Kahui, Andy Ellis, Isaia Toeava and Piri Weepu.

Tidying up the last few players' paperwork will be a major relief to the All Blacks.

The situation wasn't so clean at the 2007 World Cup, when several players were distracted by ongoing negotiations during the tournament.

Quite incredibly, McCaw signed his contract extension the day before the quarter-final loss to France.

"I think it is really important for these guys to have clear minds at the World Cup," says NZRU general manager of professional rugby Neil Sorensen. "It is one less phone call they have to take from their agent and worry about."

Williams is the biggest capture for the NZRU, as it has always been uncertain whether he would stay beyond this year. He signed a one-year deal in 2010 so he could review his options.

He's made the same deal again, which means the NZRU will have to engage in yet more lengthy negotiations almost as soon as Williams reports back for Super Rugby duty.

Williams said last week that he was reluctant to announce his plans ahead of the test, as he feared it would overshadow what was a critical game for him and many of his teammates.

- Herald on Sunday

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