Sonny Bill Williams is torn, his teammates and coaches are in the dark, and the NRL is in the wilderness wondering if the code has lost its most marketable commodity.
Williams’ playing future became the hottest of topics almost the moment fulltime was blown in Sunday’s NRL grand final win to the Sydney Roosters – the dual international completing the ultimate hit and run mission if, in fact, he does head back to rugby union.
What would be rugby’s gain would be the NRL’s biggest of losses, a year after the code turned their back on Israel Folau by virtue of its archaic and inflexible salary cap system.
It would leave not only a hole in the NRL, but also the eastern suburbs of Sydney – now a hotbed of talent for rugby league’s rivals.
The A-League’s Sydney FC have Alesandro del Piero, rugby’s NSW Waratahs have Folau and one of the biggest names in the AFL is set to arrive at Sydney with Lance Franklin’s impending $10 million move.
Without Williams, the Roosters – who achieved a significant boost in attendances in 2013 – have no one to compete with that level of talent.
Mobbed by Roosters fans at Monday’s fan day following their grand final triumph, Williams was giving little away.
“I’m not too sure yet,” he told reporters when asked what his future held.
“I’ve got some tough decisions coming up.
“I’m torn in a few directions – only time will tell. I’m just savouring the moment.”
Basking in the glory of their premiership win, Williams’ Roosters teammates claimed to know little about his next move.
NRL chief executive David Smith has said the league would do all it could to retain Williams’ services in the code, but even Smith’s hands are tied beyond a certain point.
Provide too much financial help and the NRL will have 15 other clubs crying foul.
Such was the guessing game over Williams’ future that the NZRL spent much of Monday attempting to find out whether he would available to play in the rugby league World Cup starting later this month.
Williams’ presence would be a boost not only to the Kiwis’ chances of retaining the trophy but also the tournament as a whole.