Rugby

Sonny Bill chooses All Blacks

2010-06-05 17:25
Sonny Bill Williams (File)
Auckland - Sonny Bill Williams has turned his back on the richest contract in rugby history to pursue his dream of playing for the All Blacks at next year's Rugby World Cup.

According to Rugby Heaven correspondent, Brad Walters, Williams has been starring for Toulon in France's Top 14 competition since walking out on NRL club, the Canterbury Bulldogs, two years ago.

He will return to New Zealand after his June 30 fight on the undercard of close friend Anthony Mundine's KO to Drugs promotion in Brisbane and is expected to play his first match on home soil just weeks later.

An official announcement will be made early this week, although the 24-year-old is still undecided about which provincial and Super 15 teams he will link with during his 18-month contract with the NZRU.

According to sources within his family in New Zealand, the catalyst behind Williams's decision was his mother, Lee, who lives in Auckland.

After he'd spent nine years away, first as the Bulldogs' youngest ever player and then with Toulon, Lee said: ''It's time to come home Sonny - come home and prove that you can be an All Black.''

Williams also has two sisters in Auckland and his partner Genna's family live there.

He arrived in Australia nine days ago to prepare for the KO to Drugs bout, his second professional fight. He had intended to wait until after the event to make a decision about his future in rugby.

However, the pressure from Toulon had become intense and Williams felt he should respond to their world-record $6 million, three-year offer.

It is not the first time Williams has put his on-field goals ahead of money. He rejected a $1 million-per-season offer from St Helens in 2005 to stay at the Bulldogs for a third of that amount.

But he has told friends the decision to move countries once again and back himself to succeed in another challenge had been the most difficult of his remarkable career.

Toulon are building one of the strongest club teams in world rugby after adding New Zealand front-rower Carl Hayman - regarded as the best prop in the game - and former Wallabies great George Smith to a roster than includes England's Jonny Wilkinson and South Africa's Joe van Niekerk.

Williams enjoyed his two seasons at Toulon and feels a sense of loyalty to the club after the faith and support given to him to make the transition from NRL superstar to one of the best prospects in world rugby.

But he also has close ties with Tana Umaga, the man who convinced him to join Toulon.

The former All Blacks captain may have influenced his decision to sign with the NZRU after recently giving Williams the jersey from his 74th and last Test in 2005 at Murrayfield.

Williams had the jersey in his bags when he arrived in Sydney on May 28. He was also wearing a black jacket, although he told the Herald at the time that did not mean he was leaning towards signing with the NZRU.

It was only after a three-day visit to New Zealand by Williams's manager, Khoder Nasser, earlier that week that the NZRU began to gain favour.

Unable to even attempt to match Toulon's pay offer, the NZRU gave Williams the choice of which teams he would play for in the ITM Cup and next year's Super 15 competition. He was also given the option to return to Europe or the NRL after the World Cup, to be staged in New Zealand at the end of the 2011 season.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry spent up to 12 hours with Nasser outlining his plans for Williams and the opportunities for third-party sponsorship deals to supplement the NZRU's reported $550 000-per-year offer. Nasser was also introduced to officials from the Auckland Blues, North Harbour and Counties-Manukau, who have Umaga on their coaching staff.

Nasser also travelled to Christchurch to look over the set-up at the Crusaders. Joining that team would give Williams the opportunity to play alongside the likes of Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Brad Thorn.

The NZRU's respect for his ability and the time and effort put in to woo him also impressed his mother.

After the KO to Drugs event, Williams will focus on playing rugby in a bid to break into the All Blacks team for the October 30 Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia in Hong Kong and November's tour of the British Isles.

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