Wellington - All Blacks centre Sonny Bill
Williams announced on Monday he will quit the world champion New Zealand
team to play in Japan, then return to his old stomping ground,
Australian rugby league.
Hailed as a "freakish" athlete by
national coach Steve Hansen, the 26-year-old called time on a brief but
eventful 17-Test rugby union career, which included helping New Zealand
to victory at last year's Rugby World Cup.
Williams said he had
signed with Japanese side Panasonic, in a deal reportedly worth $1.4
million, and would then switch to an unspecified National Rugby League
(NRL) team in Australia.
"This is due to a handshake agreement
made a few years ago with an NRL club," he told reporters. "I am not in a
position to elaborate on that."
Williams, who also juggles a career as a part-time boxer, is widely tipped to join Bondi-based glamour club the Sydney Roosters.
made his name in the NRL, winning the 2004 premiership with the
Canterbury Bulldogs in his rookie season before controversially walking
out on the club four years later and switching to rugby union with
In 2010, he turned down a world-record $5.0 million offer
from the French club and joined the Crusaders in the Super Rugby competition, intent on breaking into the All Blacks World Cup squad.
1.91 metre, 110 kilogram centre impressed enough
to earn his All Black debut against England in November 2010, even
though he was a rugby union novice with only a handful of senior games
in New Zealand.
Hansen said that, at the time, Williams had
limited understanding of the 15-a-side game but made up for it with his
freakish abilities and high skill levels.
He said Williams had
since developed his rugby smarts to become a truly world class player,
citing his performances in the recent series whitewash against Ireland.
Sonny has been with New Zealand rugby for only a short time, his
contribution has been immense," Hansen said in a statement, adding that
he was disappointed at Williams' departure but wished him well.
management ensured the player signed only one-year contracts after he
returned to New Zealand, leaving his options open after the World Cup.
a year with the Crusaders, when the Christchurch team made the Super Rugby
final, he moved to the Chiefs, who currently lead the
competition and are favourites to win their first title.
would allow Williams to leave New Zealand rugby on a high. He will not
participate in the Rugby Championship, the revamped southern hemisphere
competition featuring New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and
Williams, who is also the New Zealand heavyweight
boxing champion with a career record of five wins, three by knockout,
did not rule out the possibility of making yet another code switch and
eventually returning to rugby union.
"If things work out I'd like
to one day come back," he said. "But I'm not going to hold my breath
because there are good players coming up."