Sonny Bill Williams Rejects Pathway to All Blacks Rugby Return

Sonny Bill Williams rejected the chance to return to play rugby union in New Zealand next year and will instead stay with Australia’s Sydney Roosters National Rugby League team.

The 28-year-old Williams, a Rugby World Cup winner with the All Blacks in 2011, turned down an offer from governing body New Zealand Rugby and the Super Rugby champion Chiefs to remain with the Roosters team that secured the NRL title on Oct. 6.

“We obviously worked pretty hard to bring Sonny home and we have had some really good conversations with him,” Neil Sorensen, New Zealand Rugby’s general manager of professional rugby, 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.”

Williams, who also boxes professionally and has won all six of his heavyweight fights, scored six tries in 19 Tests for the All Blacks in 2010 to 2012 before returning to the NRL, where he started his professional sporting career in 2004.

He won his second NRL championship five days ago and today “pledged his commitment to the Roosters for season 2014,” the team said in a statement.

“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,” the Roosters said.

Australian bookmaker Tabcorp Holdings Ltd. (TAH) said the retention of Williams sent the Roosters into outright favoritism to win back-to-back titles, at the same time lengthening the Chiefs’ odds of another Super Rugby championship.

Roosters Slashed

“Such is the influence of Sonny Bill Williams, we were forced to slash the Roosters’ price to win again next year,” said Tabcorp spokesman Matt Jenkins. “He also ensured New Zealand firmed earlier this week to win the Rugby League World Cup, while the Chiefs have drifted to win the Super Rugby.”

Williams’s decision on his future comes in the same week that he changed his mind about playing for New Zealand at this year’s rugby league global championship, which starts Oct. 26. Williams initially said he wasn’t available for selection and was omitted from the Kiwis’ 24-man squad before being added later at the expense of another player.

The 6-foot-4, 238-pound Williams, who holds the New Zealand Professional Boxing Association heavyweight title, began his career with the NRL’s Canterbury Bulldogs, helping the Sydney-based team win the Premiership in his rookie season in 2004.

Sports Hopper

The Auckland-born Williams switched to rugby union four years later to play for Toulon in France and returned to New Zealand in 2010, earning selection to the All Blacks squad at the end of that year even though he hadn’t yet played at Super Rugby level.

After helping New Zealand end its 24-year Rugby World Cup drought with four tries in seven games at the 2011 tournament, Williams joined the Chiefs and the Hamilton-based team secured its first southern hemisphere provincial championship in 2012. He then had a stint with a Japanese rugby club before linking up with the Roosters.

New Zealand Rugby officials will “continue to keep the lines of communication open” with Williams about his playing career, Sorensen said. Chiefs coach Dave Rennie added that he hadn’t given up on eventually luring him back. The All Blacks will defend their world title in 2015.

“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,” Rennie said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Baynes in Sydney at dbaynes@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net

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