A fit and firing Sonny Bill Williams will be considered for the All Blacks' year-end tour with coach Steve Hansen indicating time was a factor less than a year out from the Rugby World Cup.
Hansen said the speed of Williams' return to the All Black fold would depend on how he pulled up from the Sydney Roosters' NRL campaign and whether he could take some part in Counties Manukau's ITM Cup campaign.
He hoped his return to test rugby would be sooner rather than later.
''There is no doubt he's an exceptional rugby player and if he's available then we'd be foolish not to look at him, but we have to take into account he's come off a big season,'' Hansen said yesterday.
''We have to take a whole lot of things into consideration before we make a decision. What's right for Sonny? What's right for the team?
''Next year's a bit different because we don't have the June series and if we can't use him [as much] going into the World Cup then if we can have that opportunity [at the end of this year] to spend time with him then that would be good.''
The 2015 Rugby Championship includes just four tests, against Argentina, South Africa and Australia (twice) with a midweek July test against Samoa in Apia also in the mix.
After two years in rugby leauge that would provide a small and pressure-packed window for Williams to slip into an All Blacks World Cup template that will be shaped later this year in the US and Europe.
''It's all up in the air until we know when we'll have him back here and can see how he's going, so there's no point now getting too carried away with it,'' Hansen said.
''He's giving his all for the Roosters at the moment and it will depend on what happens with them. Does he come through injury-free? Do they go to the finals or get knocked out early?
''I see he has expressed a desire to come over and play for Counties and make himself eligible for the end of year tour and if that all eventuates then we will have to look at it.''
The All Blacks will have their fingers crossed Williams comes through the NRL unscathed.
That's because in order to fulfil his eligibility for the end of year tour he would need to take the field for Counties in the ITM Cup and could have a very small window in which to do so.
The Roosters season could finish as early as September 4, but if they reach the NRL final it could be as late as October 5.
If the latter, then Williams may have only two possible chances to play for Counties who play Auckland in Pukekohe on October 8 and Tasman four days later in Blenheim.
If the Steelers make ITM Cup finals then Williams could also be a chance for the semifinals and final before the All Blacks 31-man end of year tour squad is named.
Whatever happens, Hansen said he would not be wringing his hands as he was a year ago with his midfield stocks looking thin on the ground.
He noted the progress of Malakai Fekitoa and the form of Ryan Crotty at test and Super Rugby level, and Dan Carter's return had added a layer of depth on top of the established pair of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith.
Carter was still seen primarily as a first five-eighth despite his recent form at second five eighth for the Crusaders and the queue of quality No 10s in Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade, Hansen said.
- The Dominion Post
Which three first-fives would you have taken on the All Blacks' northern tour?