Sonny Bill Williams is thriving at the Chiefs. Who knew Hamilton could refine individuals for the better?
His 60-minutes in Pukekohe last night showed glimpses of talent but you get the feeling his best is yet to come. Stand by. This show will be worth watching.
With the right off-field advice and nous either side of him, Williams has simplified his game. He is unselfish within this solid structure, not overstating his influence.
Williams now seems comfortable at second five-eighths, and with that assured confidence, hasn't looked more threatening in the 15-man code.
With boxing on backburner until later in the year, Williams has mounted an increasingly compelling case for the All Blacks' No12 jersey.
Remember, the world cup wasn't a career highlight. The headlining superstar was reduced to a bit-part player, not required when the tournament entered crunch time. And he didn't take kindly to being on the outer, didn't show up for the victory parades. Maybe that motivation is now driving him. He might have a world cup voodoo doll.
Last year, Williams liking for the pugilistic art impinged on his freakish abilities and blunted consistent impact. He took on too much. Now, he has the balance right.
Like most, Steve Hansen has noticed. Impress those that matter, they say. This week Hansen made a bold statement. Williams had surpassed Ma'a Nonu. That is debatable, as the incumbent's form suffers in the malfunctioning Blues rabble. Hansen could be after a reaction from Nonu after publicly challenging him. Nonu, historically, rises for the national team. His ego relishes a scrap.
With the maturing Aaron Cruden, goal-kicking with supreme accuracy duck shooters would admire, Williams and Richard Kahui, in partnership with their playmaker, are proving a readymade, in-form alternative to the world-class trio of Dan Carter, Nonu and Conrad Smith. Changing that formation was nonsensical not long ago. Talk about being flush with options, Steve.
Williams' value on attack is two-fold. He attracts defenders, either on destructive bursts or as a decoy runner, opening space wider out.
And his offloading prowess is always evident.
But there is work to be done. He does not boast Kahui's complete skill-set. The Chiefs centre might again be used on the wing for the All Blacks, simply because he deserves inclusion, somewhere.
Back to the 26-year-old, 108kg Williams. His defence can be suspect when flat-footed and targeted on the inside shoulder. And he should never put boot to ball. Those flaws can be ruthlessly exposed at international level.
Sections of public don't want him selected in the All Blacks with the future unclear. A possible deflection to rugby league would be a slap in the face.
There is opinion Williams would prohibit another player's development.
Anger that he doesn't value, or fully appreciate, the All Blacks' legacy. A slave to the dollar, some suggest.
But, regardless of the polarising views, he cannot be overlooked.
Murmurs have surfaced he may re-sign next year with the NZRU after close mentor Wayne Smith committed to Chiefs. But money remains the ultimate barrier.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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