The Roar
The Roar


After 2019, SBW should move into the forwards

Roar Guru
8th June, 2016
1678 Reads

Sonny Bill Williams is in a curious position. Despite numerous caps for the All Blacks and years in the NRL, he is still not considered a great player in either code.

He is rather considered someone who is striking and fleeting, a shooting star.

He stayed for two years with the Roosters rather than seriously coming back to fight for the All Blacks 12 jersey, quite possibly because he knew that Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith would not be separated for the 2015 World Cup with the risk that could entail, even if were desirable.

As a result he has committed wisely to spend the next four international seasons in New Zealand, in order to carve out some kind of greater status and reputation. Doubtless, he will spend 2020 at the next Olympics, perhaps in the forwards.

The question though is that in these days of 100-capped players such as Nonu, Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Keven Mealamu, will four years be enough to fashion the legacy SBW desires, even if he is a stellar operator at 12 and wins 50 or more caps?

I would argue that in the mighty dreams of such a man it is not, and he needs to become a centurion and dominate countless entire seasons in order to sate his wishes and potential.

SBW would probably not make the All Blacks starting team after 34 playing in the centres, and might well not be fast enough anymore. It is very rare to see a centre play into their late 30s. That means the only way to extend his playing career would be to move into the forwards, when it is possible to continue into the late thirties, as someone like Brad Thorn showed.

It is also quite possible that in another lifetime where league didn’t thrive in south Auckland SBW may very well have been a Kieran Read-style fast, skilled, elusive back row player. This is precisely the way he might extend his career to the 2023 World Cup.


He is in fact only fractionally shorter than another player who endured to a similar degree in the forwards, Brad Thorn, and could almost play as a lock.

Forwards can generally play longer at the top of their game than backs, and inside backs for longer than outside backs, because they depend less on the highest level of their pace and more on power, stamina and skill. These traits are more enduring, as shown by boxers who can compete even into their forties.

In the case of SBW, someone fast enough to play 12 would be a speedy backrow runner even with a decline in velocity, and his extraordinary, almost unique kind of skill would not age at all.

The offloading ability would still be as good as ever before. He could be a quite phenomenal 8, 6 or lock until 2023 and sign off with the 2024 Olympics. Indeed, there have to be questions as to how long Brad Thorn could have continued past 38 had he been so willing.

Truly outstanding forwards can break preconceptions of longevity and often retire before their time.

At such a stage SBW would have amassed well over 100 caps, four World Cups, and three Olympics.

And then he could give boxing a run.