Sonny Bill Williams signs with Chiefs
It's official. Sonny Bill Williams is a Chief for 2012.
The All Blacks superstar confirmed today he had re-signed with the New Zealand Rugby Union for one more year, and will play his Super Rugby with the Chiefs franchise.
The confirmation ends a period of speculation since the World Cup finished, with Williams said to be "50-50" heading into the weekend over whether he would stay or go.
NZRU General Manager Professional Rugby Neil Sorensen welcomed Williams' recommitment.
"He was exciting to watch in Super Rugby this year, and he played an important role in the spectacular Rugby World Cup winning All Blacks side.
"He's a special player who creates some real excitement and interest in the game with his style of rugby. We're looking forward to seeing him create some more excitement in a Chiefs, as well as an All Blacks, jersey next year," Sorensen said.
Chiefs CEO Gary Dawson was over the moon over their high-calibre signing.
"This is outstanding news for Chiefs fans. He is a world-class athlete who brings with him a unique set of skills and qualities. We are delighted he has chosen to play with us next year and we're looking forward to welcoming him next year."
New coach Dave Rennie was looking forward to working with Williams in a new-look Chiefs squad.
"We're rapt Sonny's joining the Chiefs. He had a very good World Cup and his professionalism and work ethic will have a great influence on what is a very young team," Rennie said.
Specific details of Williams' contract are confidential, however he retains the option to take part in a limited number of professional boxing fixtures.
The 26-year-old headed off on holiday to Panama yesterday, though he had that journey disrupted by the Qantas strike.
"Off to de panama today its been awhile since ive been this excited to travel," Williams tweeted on Sunday.
New Zealand rugby boss Steve Tew said they had been hugely motivated to retain a player who has become the most marketable in the game.
"Sonny Bill has been fantastic for rugby this year," said Tew. "The interest he has brought to the game, the new people he has brought to the game and even the way he's played has been absolutely outstanding."
The NZRU chief executive said Williams still had plenty left to achieve in rugby by staying in New Zealand.
"Steve Hansen summed it up well when he said the longer he plays, the better he's going to be. He has got unfulfilled potential in our sport."
Tew admitted the message from sponsors about Williams' retention was a strong one based on an undeniable profile that hasn't been seen since Jonah Lomu was at the peak of his powers.
"He brings an on and off-field component to the game that no other athlete probably since Jonah has brought. It's incredibly helpful off the paddock and it's incredibly helpful for the team he plays for on the paddock."
Williams will form a potentially explosive midfield at the Chiefs with Richard Kahui, though with both players also capable of playing on the wing it will be interesting to see where Rennie elects to play his All Blacks pair.
It's understood Williams had been initially keen to join the Blues but had been pushed to the Chiefs by the NZRU who were keen to see their star All Blacks spread round the franchises.
It's notable also that he has only been signed on for a year, with the Williams camp understood to be inflexible over the term.