League: SBW on outer with Kiwis selectors

By Michael Brown

Sonny Bill Williams is likely to be left out of the Kiwis as the selectors look to the future. Photo / Getty Images
Sonny Bill Williams is likely to be left out of the Kiwis as the selectors look to the future. Photo / Getty Images

It looks increasingly likely Sonny Bill Williams has played his last test for the Kiwis, bringing an end to an unfulfilled international league career.

The Kiwis selectors have made utterances about planning for the future when picking their side for next month's Anzac test and, given Williams will return to rugby in 2015 perhaps for the rest of his career, he doesn't represent the future.

It might prove to be an unpopular decision. It's not as if the Kiwis dominate at international level - they haven't beaten Australia since 2010 and have won only one Anzac test, 22-16 in 1998 - and Williams is one of the best players in the world.

Last year, he played a leading hand in helping the Roosters jump from 13th in 2012 to the NRL title and he was also named the club's and the Rugby League International Federation's Player of the Year.

He hasn't been sighted much this season and last night's game against the Bulldogs was only his second of the year after sitting out three weeks through suspension for a shoulder charge.

There is still a month for him to find form and he's such a damaging player he would normally be an automatic selection. The Kiwis went out of their way to include him in last year's World Cup squad at the last minute after Williams initially indicated he wouldn't be available.

The 28-year-old told the Herald last year he was contemplating retirement in 2015 (after the Rugby World Cup) or 2016 (after the Olympics).

He made his debut as a teenager for the Kiwis in 2004 but has played only 12 tests. Five of those came at last year's World Cup and it was then he experienced his first win in a Kiwis jumper.

Williams was immense in the dramatic semifinal win over England at Wembley but was powerless to stop a clinical Australian side in the final.

His reputation has also been tainted by reports of the use of sleeping pills and energy drinks while at the World Cup.

Williams is a leader of sorts but it's a demand to find an experienced playing group by the time the 2017 World Cup rolls around that seems to be driving the Kiwis selectors.

Last year's final defeat hurt deeply and planning is already underway to give them a better chance next time around but it can't get obsessive.

Coach Stephen Kearney tried to improve leadership within the playing group, introducing leadership and emerging leadership groups, but few are natural leaders.

This was an area in which Australia held a massive advantage and it showed during the Old Trafford final.

Last year's Kiwis squad were young. They had an average age of 25 and went into the tournament with an average of 10 caps among them - 15 of the 24 had played fewer than 10 tests - and the halves combination had played twice together.

Compare that with Australia, who fielded a squad of players with vast international and Origin experience.

A number of them will be missing in 2017 - Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater will be 34, Cooper Cronk and Greg Bird 33, Matt Scott 32 and Paul Gallen 36 - and some have been called once-in-a-generation players.

In 2017, the likes of Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Ben Matulino, Dean Whare, Issac Luke, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Jesse Bromwich will be vastly experienced but it seems they will have to do without Williams sooner rather than later.

- NZ Herald

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