Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Sonny Bill on NZ Rugby's radar

Sonny Bill is sought after the world over for his skills, professionalism and profile, says NZR's Chris Lendrum. Photo / Getty Images
Sonny Bill is sought after the world over for his skills, professionalism and profile, says NZR's Chris Lendrum. Photo / Getty Images

New Zealand Rugby are deep in discussions to retain Sonny Bill Williams after the Rio Olympics and are increasingly hopeful they will snare one of the hottest properties in rugby and league.

As revealed this week in the Herald, rather than heading to France to play for his former club Toulon after his sevens duties in Brazil in August, Williams is thought to prefer remaining with the All Blacks in order to fulfil his role as a member of the leadership group within Steve Hansen's team.

The British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand next year is also a big drawcard, as is the possibility of Williams playing in his third World Cup. With Ma'a Nonu gone, there is little doubt a fit Williams would claim the All Blacks No 12 jersey.

While mainly used as an impact player at last year's World Cup, the introduction of Williams and his offloading skills frequently opened up the game for the All Blacks as they swept to back-to-back World Cup triumphs.

New Zealand Rugby's player services manager Chris Lendrum said yesterday discussions with the midfielder were ongoing.

"While we cannot share specific details, obviously we would love to have Sonny remain with New Zealand Rugby in the future and we are in negotiations currently to try to achieve this," he said.

"The discussions are complex but also open and transparent. We have a great relationship with Sonny and his management, but we're taking nothing for granted as we are acutely aware he is sought after the world over for his skills, professionalism and profile. We're putting our best foot forward and working very hard to keep him here."

Ambitious Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal recently confirmed he had met Williams' manager Khoder Nasser, who also looks after the interests of Quade Cooper, a present Toulon player.

However, Boudjellal, not known for his discretion as far as the French media are concerned, is apparently not getting ahead of himself.

He said recently: "I have no idea whether he is coming or not and I can only confirm that the world champion has lots of choices."

That comment alone suggests the normally wildly optimistic Boudjellal is not holding out much hope.

A return to the NRL and the Sydney Roosters is also an option for Williams, but that also appears to be looking increasingly unlikely.

Instead, Williams could be turning out for the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship in September, shortly after his trip home from the Olympics. But New Zealand Rugby won't be celebrating any retention until he puts pen to paper.

- Herald on Sunday

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