Sydney Roosters are confident the return of Sonny Bill Williams to rugby league won't be the one-year, hit-and-run visit his critics have painted it as, and that he will be at the club for at least a couple of years.
No one at the Roosters is publicly admitting Williams is even coming to the club, despite the fact it has been the worst-kept secret in the game, but a well-connected Roosters insider yesterday told the Sydney Morning Herald the tricolours were far from resigned to the thought of Williams staying only one year.
''The club is very positive about the chances of Sonny Bill being here for longer than just one year,'' the insider said. ''They believe he will thoroughly enjoy the experience of being back in the game where he made his name, and playing for the Roosters, and that he will want to stay longer. It's not a situation where he is automatically coming back for just one year. Who knows how long he might stay if he's loving it.''
The next Rugby World Cup is in 2015, and there has been speculation Williams would go back to rugby in 2014 to start preparing for another campaign with the All Blacks.
The Roosters have struggled since making the 2010 grand final, which they lost to St George Illawarra. After a rally towards the end of last season they ended up finishing 11th, but it has been a battle for them again this season, and they are 12th going into Monday night's derby against South Sydney at Allianz Stadium.
The slide has prompted suggestions the terms they are offering Williams smack of desperation, and risk alienating other players on the club's roster because of favouritism towards the former Canterbury star who in recent years has been playing rugby and boxing.
Williams won't arrive at the club until January, after playing out the Super Rugby season with the Chiefs and then heading to Japan for a stint with the Panasonic Wild Knights rugby team. He is also expected to have one or two boxing bouts late in the year. The rest of the Roosters players will have engaged in the torturous pre-season training regimen from late October.
But the insider said the club saw the positives in linking with Williams as far outweighing any negatives, and the other Roosters players could only benefit from having a genuine superstar alongside them, increasing the team's chances of winning.
''Sonny Bill wants to have a couple of fights before he even comes to the club, so that will be over and done with before he starts preparing with the team for the league season,'' the insider said. ''And as far as not being at training until January is concerned, Sonny Bill is as fit a specimen as you could find. He trains hard for his rugby and his boxing, so there is no threat of him being underdone.
''He'll be great for the club, the other Roosters players and the game at large. Players want to win, and having Sonny Bill Williams in your side can only help your chances of winning. He'll probably draw an extra 10,000 to games, in the first few rounds at least, and maybe an extra 150,000 viewers on television. Everyone will want to see how he goes in his return to league.''
Williams has long been criticised in league for walking out on the Bulldogs while still under contract in 2008. There have been suggestions he will refuse to play against Canterbury at their home ground, ANZ Stadium, to prevent that club from profiting from his return, but the insider said the Roosters were optimistic it wouldn't come to that.
-Sydney Morning Herald
- Sydney Morning Herald