Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Sonny Bill Williams: 'I've chosen my path'

Sonny Bill Williams says honour is prompting him to leave the Chiefs and All Blacks for a return to rugby league and he would prefer not to.

The 17-test All Black who is just starting to reach his potential as a rugby player following his league career, will ply his trade in Australia next season with an as-yet unnamed NRL club.

Williams, who admitted he was nervous making his announcement at a press conference at the Chiefs base in Hamilton today, said he felt he had to honour a "handshake agreement" with an unidentified NRL club, made before he left French rugby club Toulon for New Zealand to try his hand at being an All Black.

Before he returns to the code in which he made his name, probably with the Sydney Roosters, he will head to Japan to take up a lucrative short-term with Japanese rugby club Panasonic Wild Knights.

His deal with Panasonic is thought to be worth about $1.5 million for 12 games and means Williams will not play in this year's Rugby Championship against Australia, South Africa and Argentina, but said he hadn't closed to the door to the All Blacks.

"One day I would love to come back but in saying that I'm not going to hold my breath because there are some great players here coming through who deserve all that they get. I've chosen my path and now I've got to walk it.

"I didn't think I would love it as much as I have here. To be honest, I feel I've found my place here at the Chiefs, with the boys, but it just goes back to I've given someone my word. This was a while ago and I've had to go on with that, even though it's tough."

Asked if he would prefer to stay with the Chiefs and All Blacks, he said: "In a perfect world, yes. It's a pretty difficult situation, but I just have to make the most of it. If all things go well I will be playing league next year. I can't start that with this [regret] at the back of my mind, I've got to start fresh and give it my all."

Flanked by Chiefs coaches Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith, and All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster, Williams showed his emotions as he reflected on his All Blacks career and time at the Chiefs, the team he joined from the Crusaders.

Rennie said: "There's an impression that Sonny is bigger than the team or bigger than the game but Sonny is very much one of the boys and he is certainly loved by his teammates."

Although there was speculation he would return to the Chiefs and All Blacks in 2014, nothing was confirmed today, although both Rennie and All Blacks assistant Foster indicated he would be welcomed back.

Smith, a former All Blacks assistant coach who took Williams under his wing at the national team, said: "I've really seen Sonny develop over the last two or three years and wherever he goes, they're going to be incredibly lucky. He's shown ability to come up to an immense level really in a quick time in a sport he didn't know much about."

Williams, who it is understood will box again in November, during the Panasonic season, indicated he would be happy to return.

"If I ever came back to NZ rugby I'd definitely come back to the Chiefs. Even if there was no money here I'd come back for free.

"Now my full focus must be with the Chiefs, my brothers, for the rest of the Super Rugby season."

- APNZ

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