Rodney So'oialo, Ali Williams on a roll

Last updated 05:00 14/11/2010

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Despite his staggering decline as a rugby player, Rodney So'oialo remains one of the top paid players in New Zealand.

Only two All Blacks are paid higher retainers by the New Zealand Rugby Union – Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.

Sunday Star-Times sources have confirmed So'oialo and an elite group of players are the next best paid All Blacks – even though the Wellington No 8 hasn't pulled on the black jersey this year and is not wanted for next year's Rugby World Cup.

Carter and McCaw both earn guaranteed retainers (which are not subject to form or fitness) from the NZRU of about $750,000.

The sport's next biggest stars earn about $500,000 from the union (a figure which can vary depending on performance clauses and doesn't include what they earn from their provinces and sponsors). So'oialo is one of them, as is the injured Ali Williams, who hasn't played any meaningful rugby for two years.

Mils Muliaina and Tony Woodcock are also in the group.

Williams' injury was outside the NZRU's control.

However, So'oialo's rapid slide was not anticipated when it should have been.

His guaranteed pay packet has left NZRU officials red faced in the current economic climate. His and Williams' contracts have also contributed to a blow-out in the NZRU's professional player payment pool.

In a pre-emptive strike in March last year the NZRU offered So'oialo a two year deal to ward off overseas overtures.

The All Blacks selectors were adamant he would play a major part in next year's World Cup and made a strong recommendation he should be retained.

The NZRU felt obliged to either offer a contract equal to his seniority and standing in the game or cut him loose.

So'oialo accepted their generous terms in March 2009.

The deal, however, has turned out to be a dud.

An injured So'oialo was dropped by the All Blacks two months later, after a poor Super Rugby campaign.

He was recalled for the Tri Nations and end of year tour but was deemed surplus to Graham Henry's requirements this year and hasn't and probably won't appear in black again.

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