Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

NRL: All eyes on SBW...again

With another NRL grand final winners' medal in his possession, Sonny Bill Williams appears to be on the brink of announcing a return to rugby.

The New Zealand Professional Boxing Association heavyweight title holder also has a $1.3 million winner-takes-all invitation to fight either Joseph Parker or Afa Tatupu within six months and it is understood he has made himself unavailable for the Kiwis' World Cup campaign which starts this month - their squad will be named today.

All eyes, again, are on SBW, who had a large media contingent in his thrall after his standout effort for the Roosters in their 26-18 victory over Manly in Sydney on Sunday. Adding to the hype, a crowd of about 2000 supporters chanted his name at the NRL premiers' fan day celebrations at their Allianz Stadium headquarters yesterday.

Williams had promised to reveal his intentions after the final, but said afterwards he would reveal his next destination within a fortnight.

It was probably a ploy to give him breathing space. An announcement that he is about to rejoin the Chiefs wouldn't have gone down well with an Australian league media basking in the glow of the grand final. On the other hand, what better time would there be for Williams to re-dedicate himself to the Roosters?

So, while there may not be too much for him to think about regarding his short-term rugby future, boxing is another matter.

He has fought only once since winning the New Zealand Professional Boxing Association heavyweight belt against Clarence Tillman last year and that was the controversial victory over Francois Botha in February.

Williams apparently has already dodged a challenge from New Zealand National Boxing Federation heavyweight titleholder Tatupu, whose belt goes on the line against Joseph Parker in Trusts Arena, Auckland, on Thursday. Duco Events' Dean Lonergan is trying to force Williams into the ring against the winner of the fight with one of the largest purses in Australasian heavyweight history.

Lonergan ensured NZPBA president Lance Revill was at the Parker v Tatupu press conference yesterday to confirm Williams would be stripped of his title if he didn't respond to Lonergan's invitation.

"To be fair to Sonny Bill, I can't really see him accepting it within six months," Revill said. "If I was Sonny Bill, I would need two or three fights to get in shape. I would be looking at eight months, but in fairness to boxing, we're going to put the offer to him and if he turns it down we're going to have to strip him of the title."

Revill said he would be prepared to negotiate about delaying the fight.

Williams, meanwhile, apologised for closing himself off to the media before the grand final, saying he even changed his phone number in order to concentrate on his "dream".

He added that his exit from the Bulldogs was probably the most important thing in allowing him to win another NRL title.

"When I was a youngster I fell off. I never touched alcohol until I made first grade," he said. "I lost my way for a couple of years there but I'm proud to say I'm proud of the man I see in the mirror."

- APNZ

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