Sonny Bill Williams has weighed in behind old rugby sparring partner Quade Cooper following his controversial omission from the initial Wallabies squad to play the British and Irish Lions next month.
Williams, a friendly rival of the controversial New Zealand-born five-eighth when he was playing for the Crusaders, Chiefs and All Blacks, yesterday revealed he had commiserated with Cooper after he was not selected for the 25-strong group on Sunday.
"To me he's the best number 10 in the country by a long shot but the selectors and powers at be have other opinions," said Williams, who developed a strong friendship with the adopted Queenslander through their manager Khoder Nasser.
Although Williams returned to rugby league this year with the Sydney Roosters the "best mates" share a mutual passion for boxing and appeared on the same card when the double international beat South African Francois Botha in February.
Williams even offered to take a pay cut at the Sydney Roosters to fund Cooper's defection from the 15-man code when he was fined and reprimanded for describing the Wallabies environment under Robbie Deans as "toxic" last September.
Deans insisted that outburst had no bearing on Cooper's non-selection, instead claiming the 38-test veteran had become too predictable, did not fit into the team pattern and was too prone to turnover possession.
Williams would not buy into that argument when previewing the Roosters round 11 NRL game with Melbourne on Saturday night.
"I'll probably stay out of it this time. Whatever I say (about Cooper) seems to get me in a bit of trouble," he said, before adding: "It seems to me there's a lot of finger pointing saying he can't do this and he can't do this. I spoke to him and said 'just be patient' and let his talent do the talking."
Williams played the Wallabies four times in his 19-test career - Cooper was on the opposition three times and Australia lost every game, including the 2011 World Cup semi-final at Eden Park where the playmaker caved in under pressure.
Williams would not dwell on Cooper's experience at the World Cup but believed he was playing well for the Reds.
"The last month he's been on fire, he's only going to get better," he said.
Cooper has to rely on being among six additions to the Wallabies group on June 11, the tour match agains the Lions three days before will be his last chance to impress.
While surprised Cooper is on the outer, Williams had no issue with league and AFL convert Israel Folau's rapid rise to international rugby just 12 matches into his Super Rugby career with the Waratahs.
"He's one of those guys that just has that thing you can't really coach. I wish I had that, just being able to beat players with ease like that.
"It'll be good to see him out there. I'll be like everyone else, waiting to see how he goes. He's done really well so far. It's exciting to see him play," said Williams.
Meanwhile, he would not be drawn on his future beyond the Roosters campaign to win their first NRL premiership since 2002.
There has been speculation he will extend his stay at the Roosters until the end of 2014 or return to rugby with the Chiefs with a view of being involved in the All Blacks' defence of the World Cup in 2015.
"I'm not sure. I say it every year whenever I get asked," he said.
"I just make sure I do what I do and that's play footy well. If I do that well enough then things off the field will fall into place."
- © Fairfax NZ News