Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: SBW commits to rugby

The lure of another World Cup was strong for Sonny Bill Williams. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The lure of another World Cup was strong for Sonny Bill Williams. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Sonny Bill Williams has agreed to stay in New Zealand and has signed what is thought to be a three-year deal that will take him through to the 2019 World Cup.

Having switched between league and rugby twice since 2008, Williams is determined to make it to a third World Cup with the All Blacks. He has rejected offers to return to the NRL and rejoin his former French club Toulon to give the remainder of his football career to the 15-man game and New Zealand rugby.

Recent promotion to the All Blacks' leadership group helped convince the 30-year-old that head coach Steve Hansen sees him as a vital part of the national side. Williams has won 33 test caps and two World Cup winners' medals but has not been a regular starter.

With Ma'a Nonu having retired, the way has been paved for Williams to establish himself as the All Blacks' preferred second five-eighth and take ownership of a jersey he first wore in 2010.

Williams has previously signed only one-year deals but his certainty that he wants to win 50 test caps and be remembered as a great All Black is thought to have persuaded him to make a longer commitment.

By doing that, he was also able to benefit from the newly-signed broadcast deal. Williams, like all senior players in New Zealand, will enjoy a massively-improved pay deal as a result of the 100 per cent increase in TV income. He will also be allowed to box professionally as part of the deal.

Confirmation of Williams' commitment to New Zealand Rugby will come on Wednesday at a press conference in Auckland but it is not yet known which Super Rugby side he intends to play for.

Both the Chiefs and Blues are in the running to capture his signature and it is understood he will make his decision as late as the night before his contract signing is unveiled.

Williams is understood to be torn between the two offers.

The Chiefs were his rugby saviour and he feels a loyalty to them. Having initially played for the Crusaders when he arrived in New Zealand six years ago, Williams didn't settle well in Christchurch.

He wasn't warmly embraced by the Crusaders' senior All Blacks and when his coaching mentor, Wayne Smith, shifted to the Chiefs as technical director in 2012, Williams decided to follow him.

The shift paid immediate dividend as he struck a deadly partnership with first-five Aaron Cruden and formed a strong friendship with captain Liam Messam. The Chiefs won the title that year and Williams was instrumental in delivering it.

After he fulfilled what he said was a long-made commitment to return to the NRL in 2013 and 2014, Williams rejoined the Chiefs for the 2015 season and is technically available to them between sevens commitments. But while he has loyalty to the Chiefs, he also has a strong relationship with Blues coach Tana Umaga who was at Toulon when Williams first defected from league.

Umaga, as a former world-class midfielder, had a major influence on Williams' early rugby development and the two are close.

Williams played for Umaga's Counties Manukau team in the ITM Cup when he returned from the Sydney Roosters in 2014.

He and his family are currently based in Auckland, the city in which he grew up before he left for Sydney in his mid-teens.

Snaring Williams would be a massive coup for the struggling Blues who are short of star quality and seemingly always miss out in any competitive process to sign leading talent. They made a bid to sign Damian McKenzie earlier this month but he rejected their offer to stay at the Chiefs and it confirmed the damaging perception that the best players don't want to head to Auckland.


Sonny Bill Williams

Age: 30
Height: 1.94m
Weight: 108kg
Caps: 33

Teams
2010: Canterbury
2011: Crusaders
2012 and 2015: Chiefs
2014: Counties Manukau
2010-12, 2014: All Blacks
2016: All Blacks Sevens

Test debut: November 6, 2010 v England at Twickenham
Test tries: 9

- Herald on Sunday

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