NRL chief executive Dave Smith is banking on the standard of competition and not cold hard cash as the key to rugby league’s chances of holding onto Sonny Bill Williams and regaining the services of Israel Folau.
Speculation over the futures of code hoppers Williams and Folau have gathered pace with each passing performance by the pair, Smith admitting the NRL was desperate to hold onto the former All Black.
With Folau taking to rugby union with far greater success than his switch to AFL, the Australian Rugby Union is believed to be ramping up its negotiations to keep the former rugby league star in the 15-man game.
On the back of Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson issuing an impassioned plea for the NRL to do everything in its powers to have Williams and Folau playing rugby league, Smith said the desire to keep Williams was obvious.
“We want people in our game like Sonny Bill and of course we want him to stay,” Smith said.
“He’s one of many wonderful athletes in our game – you got GI (Greg Inglis) here, Sonny Bill, the list is endless.
“It would be great to keep people like Sonny in the game. I think it’s really important for the game.”
Asked about what message he would deliver Folau – who was set to return to rugby league with Parramatta before salary cap complications delivered him to rugby union – Smith said: “It’s the greatest game of all.
“Look at what goes on on the field inside those white lines.
“We’ve got great athletes and great performances. The game is as competitive as it’s ever been, it’s in as good shape as it’s ever been and that’s without the biff.”