Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson has earmarked his side’s NRL pre-season trial match against Wests Tigers on February 23 as Sonny Bill Williams’ return to rugby league.
The New Zealand dual international will run out as a league player for the first time since his controversial exit from Canterbury midway through the 2008 season.
However, the 27-year-old’s appearance will depend on how well he recovers from his heavyweight boxing fight against 44-year-old South African Francois Botha in Brisbane on February 8.
The contest was moved back after the All Blacks World Cup winner tore a pectoral muscle during his lucrative spell in Japanese rugby in November.
Although he’s yet to train with his new teammates, Robinson said he expects Williams, who is certain to play in the back-row, to have an immediate effect around the club.
“I’ve been keeping in contact with his rehab in Japan and he’s progressing well – there’s been no setbacks,” Robinson said.
“He works pretty hard on his body. He’s obviously got to finish his commitments with his (Japanese) club, Panasonic, then get ready to fight.
“From February 11, he’ll be with us. He’s a professional, he’s been training hard and he’ll be very fit and hungry by the time he gets to us. I’m more than happy with what he’s doing.”
Robinson admits Williams’ pre-season is somewhat unorthodox and said he’ll need to prove he is ready to play before he will be thrown in the deep end.
“That’s a question I’ve asked myself, the assessment on where his injury is at after the fight,” he said.
“I need to see him train first, the way he’s going to run and adapt to the new structures.
“The second trial against the Tigers is the one we’ve earmarked but we’ll have to make an assessment.
“It’s two-and-a-half weeks after he arrives. We’re not going to make any early calls but that’s the one we’ve earmarked at the moment.
Williams joins James Maloney and Michael Jennings as the Roosters’ big-money signings for 2013 and Robinson admits the pressure is on him to succeed in his first season.
“I think definitely it does. The club’s invested well in the off-season with their recruits,” he said.
“The Roosters is a club that wants to be successful. Along with the recruits, we’ve invested a lot behind the scenes as well in the day-to-day running of the club and the sports science and technology.
“We’re trying to improve things and we need to improve over the next couple of years.”
Jennings met his new teammates for the first time on Wednesday following his switch from Penrith and the NSW and Test centre, who will be officially unveiled on Thursday by the club, said he was looking forward to his new surroundings.
“I’m excited to see the boys. It’s a fresh new start for me,” was all the 24-year-old said as he was escorted out of the building and to his car in a bid to evade the waiting media by Roosters’ recruitment manager Peter O’Sullivan.