Twenty-five of the 50 greatest players in Rugby World Cup history have been revealed over the past five days, now it’s time to get into the second half.
All Blacks rugby centre Conrad Smith is excited about the prospect of combining with Sonny Bill Williams after the former Kiwis league international was reported to be a step closer to a black jersey.
A report in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper, by a journalist close to the Williams camp, said the Toulon midfielder had decided to sign with the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) and will ink a deal later this week.
In a coup for the NZRU amid a player drain to Europe and Japan, it means the devastating attacker will likely return to his home town Auckland and possibly link with Toulon teammate Tana Umaga at Counties-Manukau for the ITM Cup starting next month.
The 24-year-old would then be eligible for the All Blacks’ end-of-year tour of Hong Kong and Europe, and next year’s World Cup.
Smith, a 33-Test centre, said the chance to team up with Williams was something to look forward to.
“I’m just glad that, if he does play, he’s playing in New Zealand. If we’ve got hold of him rather than playing overseas then it’ll be good,” Smith told reporters on arrival in New Plymouth for Saturday’s season-opening Test against Ireland.
All Blacks management were tight-lipped, preferring to wait until when, or if, Williams put pen to paper.
Coach Graham Henry was chief tour guide for Williams’ manager, Khoder Nasser, on his recent visit to New Zealand to check out potential provincial rugby bases.
NZRU chief executive Steve Tew was also cautious.
“We have no more information, so there is not much point commenting until we have something from them,” he said.
The NZRU are understood to have given Williams the choice of province and Super 15 side as well as the option to return to Europe after next year’s World Cup, or if he didn’t make the cut for the All Blacks.
Williams will reportedly turn down an offer to remain at Toulon, said to be worth a staggering $NZ6 million-plus for three years. The NZRU are reportedly offering $NZ550,000 ($A446,000).
The Sun-Herald said Williams’ Auckland-based mother, Lee, helped persuade him to return to New Zealand to prove he could be an All Black.
He also has two sisters in Auckland and his partner Genna’s family also live there.
Williams stunned the league world by walking out of his NRL contract with the Bulldogs in 2008, meaning he missed the Kiwis’ rugby league World Cup win that year.
He just completed a second season at Toulon and after a shaky start and some injury concerns, finished the French Top-14 season strongly and piqued Henry’s interest.
Williams returned to Australia last week for his second professional boxing bout on the undercard of his friend Anthony Mundine in Brisbane on June 30.
“It is no secret that there is a big offer to go back to France and there is also the chance to go to my home country, New Zealand, and have a crack at trying to make the All Blacks,” he said on his return.
“There is a lot to weigh up and nothing is as straightforward as it seems but, hopefully, I will make my decision in the next week.”