Sonny Bill Williams eyes ABs return this season
Sonny Bill Williams could, conceivably, return to the All Blacks this year.
The cross-code superstar, who is currently chasing back-to-back NRL Premierships with the Sydney Roosters, has a desire to turnout for Counties Manukau in this year's NPC competition with a view to making himself available for selection on the All Blacks' four-match end of year tour.
Next year's World Cup was a major lure for Williams to sign a two-year deal with the New Zealand Rugby Union, the Chiefs and Counties. And it appears he realises the best chance for him to cement a place in that squad is to tour Chicago, Twickenham, Edinburgh and Cardiff in November.
Injuries and fatigue could yet scupper Williams' plans and if the Roosters again reach the NRL grand final on October 5 he would need Counties to qualify for the playoffs, with their last round-robin match just three days later against Auckland, to satisfy eligibility criteria for All Blacks selection.
But should the Roosters fail to reach the finale, Counties coach Tana Umaga made it clear he would do everything possible to cater for Williams.
"All I know is if he wants to go on the end of year tour he'll have to play some time for us this year," Umaga said. "We've been prepared for that. If he is feeling good and wants to go on the end of year tour after his time with the Roosters then I'm sure we'd have no qualms making time available for him to get on the field.
"It would be great for our community, fans and the guys who get to play alongside a well documented superstar.
"It will be based on how he's feeling and where his head is at after another long season. He's done it before with the Kiwis so it's not as if his body wouldn't be used to it. It's just whether he wants that or good preparation time leading into Super Rugby and a World Cup year."
Umaga is, meanwhile, preparing his side for their first Ranfurly Shield defence of the year, against Thames Valley in Pukekhoe this Wednesday.
Counties are then scheduled to put the famous Log o' Wood - New Zealand rugby's oldest prize - on the line against Mid Canterbury the following Wednesday. Both fixtures will test Umaga's resources with his Super Rugby players unavailable.
"We've been going through a vigorous process of looking at our depth," he said. "It could always be better but we're happy with where we are at."
Otago are expected to provide the first genuine challenge in round two of the NPC. Hawke's Bay, Canterbury, Wellington and Auckland are, at this stage, due to follow.