Sonny Bill Williams might have taken a five-year gap away in rugby union and professional boxing, but his worth to rugby league has been immediately rewarded with the highest international award in his comeback season.
The New Zealand and Sydney Roosters forward left league in 2008 to play rugby union in France, Japan and his homeland, where he was part of the All Blacks squad that went on to win the 2011 Rugby World Cup on home soil.
Williams moved on to become a key figure in the Sydney Roosters team that won the club’s first Grand Final for more than a decade and has been an integral part of the Kiwi side that is bidding to successfully defend their World Cup trophy, with the final set for tomorrow against Australia.
The 28-year-old Muslim is the first Kiwi to win the International Player of the Year award, which has been won by Australian players since its inception in 2008 — Billy Slater (2008, 2011), Jarryd Hayne (2009), Todd Carney (2010) and Cameron Smith (2012).
Williams, who is also New Zealand’s heavyweight boxing champion, is arguably rugby’s — in both codes — biggest name and is set on becoming the first player to win both union and league World Cups.
“I’m pretty banged up, but I’ll be raring to go,” Williams said after their thrilling 20-18 semi-final victory over England, adding of tomorrow’s final: “These games are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and you’ve got to try and take them with both hands.”
“Obviously we are the reigning world champions, but in the past four years Australia haven’t lost too many games. That’s why I’m here, because I want to play against the best,” he said.