Sonny Bill Williams is set to make his return to rugby union as soon as next Saturday, and also plans to fight during the off-season after his second stint in the NRL ended with Sydney Roosters’ 32-22 loss to South Sydney.
Williams, who signed a two-year deal with the New Zealand Rugby Union for 2015 and 2016 after last season’s premiership triumph with the Roosters, may play for Counties-Manakau in Saturday’s ITM Cup match against Southland in Invercargill. If not, the 29-year-old dual international plans to make his first rugby union appearance for two years in the following Wednesday’s match against Auckland.
With Williams expected to be chosen for the All Blacks’ end-of-season tour to Britain, which includes a match against the USA at Soldier Field in Chicago on November 2, he is keen to re-acquaint himself with the game as quickly as possible and will play the remainder of the ITM Cup for the Tana Umaga-coached Steelers. After having his longest off-season in five years, with no sporting activity between the 2013 World Cup final on November 30 and his return to training with the Roosters in late January, Williams also wants to resume his six-fight boxing career, which includes a WBA international heavyweight title win over Francois Botha.
He is likely to fight between the end of the tour, which culminates with a Test against Wales at Millennium Stadium on November 22, and the Chiefs’ opening match of the 2015 Super Rugby season agains the Blues on February 15. “I am pretty keen to get back in the ring, it just depends when I have my next break,” Williams said. “I think you are a long time retired. I am 29 years old now, so I am no spring chicken. We will just have to see what the next chapter involves.”
As he did during last year’s finals series, Williams blocked out all external distractions in a bid to focus on helping the Roosters become the first club to win back-to-back premierships in a unified competition since Brisbane in 1992 and 1993. But since Friday night’s loss at ANZ Stadium, he has begun thinking about his return to New Zealand and rugby union. “Obviously the big goal is to try and get back in the All Blacks set-up but there is a lot of hard work and a lot of boxes to be ticked before then, so we will just have to wait and see how we go,” Williams said.
“Whenever the NZRU or my manager has tried to speak to me, I have just said my mind is focused on this, so I didn’t even want to think about it. Now it is finished I will see what the plans are with the NZRU and just suss it out from there. I will have to see what they want.”
While unsure if he would return to the NRL, Williams left little doubt it would be for the Roosters if he did after a successful two-year stint in which he reaffirmed his standing as one of the best players the game has seen and turned around negative perceptions over his decision to walk out on Canterbury in 2008. “I think the biggest thing for me about coming back here was not just playing some good footy but earning some respect off the field,” he said. “Just being able to walk around the rugby league community and get respect not just from the Roosters fans but from the rugby league community in general is a massive, massive feeling. I’ll always have my critics but I’m proud about what I’ve accomplished in the past two years. I think if you told me that we would go one win away from a grand final and obviously winning a premiership [last year], I would take that with both hands.
“It has been an amazing ride the past two years, coming back into rugby league and being able perform the way I have, because obviously you have your doubts that you can play the game still. So you are happy in that sense but then you are sad because [of] being able to play in such a quality side and you build lifelong friendships. That is probably the toughest thing, leaving a club where the culture feels changed in the past two years for the better, and it feels like it is heading in the right directions.”