Sonny Bill Williams should be a success

BY RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 20/10/2010
Sonny Bill Williams
FIONA GOODALL
FAST LEARNER: Former rugby league star Sonny Bill Williams wears a casual All Blacks top after being named in the New Zealand rugby union team.

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Shontayne Hape, Lesley Vainakolo, Henry Paul and Sonny Bill Williams.

OPINION: They are all dual internationals, having played for the Kiwis rugby league team before jumping codes, but only one, Canterbury's Williams, has been named in an All Blacks side since rugby went professional in late 1995.

History is littered with All Blacks who defected from the amateur ranks to chase the cash in rugby league, but finding those that have executed the move in reverse is more taxing.

The closest any ex-Kiwi has got to the All Blacks since the code went professional in late 1995 is Craig Innes. A midfielder, Innes played 17 tests for the All Blacks before joining English league club Leeds and then Sydney's Manly.

A return to rugby, not before he had represented the Kiwis, resulted in him returning to Auckland, but the closest he got to an All Blacks jersey was with New Zealand A in 1999.

Karl Ifwersen, a prodigious sporting talent, was more successful; he grew up playing rugby in Auckland before switching to league and playing for the Kiwis in 1914 and 1919. After WWI a dispensation was offered to servicemen to rejoin rugby, something Ifwersen accepted after initial resistance.

Despite being so highly rated, he played just one test, against South Africa in 1921, and should have toured Britain three years later if the home countries' administrators had not been such sticklers for the amateur ethos.

Another former leaguie, Tana Umaga, played for the Junior Kiwis before linking with Wellington, the Hurricanes and, eventually, the All Blacks.

For Hape, Vainakolo and Paul, who moved to the northern hemisphere to bolster their pockets with their respective British league clubs, the rugby path they chose to follow next led to unspectacular stints in the England backline.

Williams, it is expected, should fare somewhat better.

Although unproven in the Super tournament Williams, in his seven NPC appearances with Canterbury, has shown to have the ability to be far more than just a passenger feeling his way during the All Blacks' northern tour.

Given his much-publicised arrival, and the hype that has surrounded him since joining the Bulldogs in the NRL as an 18-year-old, there is an expectation that he perform as an experienced professional, not of a rookie.

Yet, he also has the luxury of biding his time to a degree.

It is unrealistic to expect the 25-year-old to force his way into Graham Henry's top XV ahead of second five-eighth Ma'a Nonu, a 51-test veteran.

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During this tour Williams will instead be encouraged to absorb all the knowledge he can from team-mates Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and another code-turner in Brad Thorn.

Having made seven appearances for the Kiwis between 2004 and 2008 Williams already has an insight into preparing for test football, although being immersed in the travelling circus of the All Blacks and the numerous off-field obligations on tour, may be a surprise.

It will be just another chapter in the evolving SBW show.

- The Press

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