Cross-code star Sonny Bill Williams will not rejoin the All Blacks next year, opting instead to stay in Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL), the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) said yesterday.
Speculation about Williams’ future mounted after he helped the Sydney Roosters win the NRL title last weekend, with the New Zealander considering a return to the All Blacks for the 2015 World Cup.
However, NZRU general manager professional rugby Neil Sorensen said Williams decided against another switch of sporting codes and will remain with the Roosters next year.
He said the NZRU were keen to resign the athletic 28-year-old, who helped New Zealand claim the Rugby World Cup on home soil in 2011.
“We obviously worked pretty hard to bring Sonny home and we have had some really good conversations with him,” Sorensen said in a statement. “This is disappointing, but we know we put our best foot forward, and in the end Sonny has made his decision.”
He said lines of communication would be kept open with the mercurial player, who only this week changed his mind about playing for New Zealand in the Rugby League World Cup later this month.
In a brief statement, the Roosters said Williams had committed to playing for the club next year, although nothing had been signed.
“The club anticipates that Williams will officially sign in mid-February 2014 for the remainder of the season on the same terms and conditions as his 2013 contract,” it said.
Auckland-born Williams began his career in league, winning the 2004 NRL title with the Canterbury Bulldogs in his debut season, before controversially walking out on the team mid-contract to play rugby union.
He was equally successful in the 15-man code, contributing to the 2011 World Cup win and snaring last year’s Super 15 title with the Waikato Chiefs.
An NRL title was added to his bulging trophy cabinet this year and many pundits believed he would rejoin the All Blacks for a tilt at the 2015 World Cup and the Olympic Sevens in 2016.
Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie said he had not given up hope of eventually luring Williams back.
“While we are disappointed that Sonny won’t be with us in 2014 now, we’ll be keen to keep talking to him about future options,” he said.
If Williams stays with the Roosters next year it will be the first time he has played consecutive seasons for the same team since leaving French club Toulon in 2010.
Since then, he has turned out for no fewer than four club sides, as well as winning the New Zealand heavyweight boxing title, leading to criticism he flits between rugby union, rugby league and the fight game seemingly on a whim.
He did nothing to dispel his impulsive reputation this week when he initially told the New Zealand Rugby League he would not play at the upcoming league World Cup, only to change his mind hours after the Kiwi squad was announced.
The backflip forced coach Stephen Kearney to make room for Williams by axing rookie Tohu Harris, whose parents had already booked tickets to Britain believing they would see their 21-year-old son in action.