The New Zealand Rugby League is confident the lure of next year's World Cup will spur Sonny Bill Williams to return to the Test scene in Canberra in April.
Its general manager of high performance, Tony Kemp, said Raiders back-rower Josh Papalii could be on track to play beside Williams, the 20-year-old edging closer to a Test debut.
On duty with the All Blacks in tonight's rugby union Test in Auckland, Williams will return to the NRL next season.
Kemp said he expected Williams to declare himself available for the New Zealand team and return to international rugby league. If this transpires, it would be a massive boost for next year's mid-season Test at Canberra Stadium.
Kemp, who has kept in contact with Williams, is yet to receive a formal confirmation. But he was confident Williams, who won a rugby union World Cup with the All Blacks last year, would commit to helping the Kiwis defend their world title in 2013.
''Sonny Bill isn't one to sit on the fence, he wants to push the boundaries, and I'm pretty sure that means [playing] Test football,'' Kemp said. ''He wasn't part of the last [rugby league] World Cup. He's got a rugby union World Cup, so I'd say a rugby league World Cup would be at the top of his list as well.
''Someone of Sonny Bill's calibre is going to add a heap of value back to the New Zealand side.''
Kemp, currently in Australia to talk to New Zealand players, also spoke highly of Papalii.
The Junior Kiwis representative is in just his second season of the NRL, but Kemp admitted he was on the cusp of Test selection.
''We think it's only a matter of time before he pulls on the black and white jersey,'' Kemp said. ''Selectors are talking at the moment about the end-of-year Test and we only have one this year, but looking to the future I can see Josh definitely pushing his case for the World Cup next year.
''He's a lot similar to Ruben Wiki. You've just got to bide your time. We've got a good stock of back-rowers running around and Josh is just added to that mix. His form for Canberra has been outstanding - if you're looking at the last four weeks he's one of the form back-rowers.''
The future of the mid-season Test had been clouded until it was confirmed this month that Canberra would host the Kangaroos for the first time. The match is likely to be played on April 19.
Kemp said the mid-season Test was important to New Zealand rugby league, not just for the financial boost it provided but also because it provided a representative pathway for New Zealand players.
As shown by James Tamou playing for NSW this year, New Zealand is under threat from their players taking Australian status so they can play Origin.
New Zealand is also exploring its own version of Origin, Kemp said.
''Competing against Origin is always our biggest problem and if they take away that mid-season Test then our boys sit down and watch the Origin and haven't got anything else to play,'' Kemp said. ''Eventually we hope to be able to run our own Origin but currently the pinnacle for New Zealand players is playing Test match football ...
''It's not as easy as just putting some teams together and going out and playing against each other. We're still doing a lot of investigation about best model works with Origin and we'll take our time doing that because we don't want something that's not sustainable.''
- Sydney Morning Herald
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