NRL All Stars coach eyes Sonny Bill Williams
Master coach Wayne Bennett is hoping to link up with Sonny Bill Williams again, believing his All Stars team would be the perfect way for the Rugby World Cup winner to return to rugby league.
Williams is expected to honour a handshake agreement with the Sydney Roosters to arrive at Bondi Junction next year, although his boxing and rugby commitments mean his starting date is unclear.
If, as expected, an official announcement is made next month, he should be eligible for selection in Bennett's All Stars.
Bennett worked closely with Williams when he helped coach the Kiwis for the 2008 centenary test against the Kangaroos - Williams' last international before switching codes - and was hugely impressed.
"From my point of view, if he's eligible to play under the rules of the All Stars and he gets selected, I'd love to have him in the team," Bennett said of the season-opening festival game which will be played for the fourth time.
"It would [add interest], but he's got to make his intentions clear and secondly the Roosters have got to let him be available."
Bennett says it would be an ideal occasion to ease Williams back into the Sydney league scene after his controversial Bulldogs exit.
"Sonny Bill, if he came back to the game, it would be a good way for him to come back in.
"Sam Burgess came over in his first year here and finished up playing. That was a great thing for him because it helped him get accepted very quickly into the game. He came in here, met up with one player from every other club and they all realised what a good bloke he was."
Bennett has only good memories of his brief time with Williams in the Kiwis setup. "I enjoyed it. He's a very good person, I didn't have any problems with him and I enjoyed his company. He was highly respected in that group."
While most pundits expect Williams to make his return in round one - the Bulldogs and South Sydney are lobbying the ARLC to stage their first game against the Roosters - the chance to see the All Black play in the All Stars first would guarantee astronomical TV ratings and a sellout of Suncorp Stadium.
The first stage of voting for the All Stars team opened last weekend, with fans to decide which players should join Cameron Smith and Benji Marshall in the All Stars. In the unlikely event that Williams - should he be available - is overlooked, Bennett has the ability to name him as one of his two discretionary picks.
Bennett, who has won seven premierships as a coach, is adamant Marshall plays his best football at No 6. "He's a five-eighth, not a halfback. Cooper Cronk played halfback for us last year and did a great job.
"[Marshall] is definitely a six, I don't want him playing at halfback. He's better playing at second receiver getting that ball when he wants it. He likes to sit back and wait for that moment and then grab it then."