Sonny Bill Williams set to sign - finally
After all the debate and intrigue - and most recently the injury - Sonny Bill Williams is set to be formally unveiled as Sydney Roosters' marquee signing tomorrow.
Fairfax Media has been told that, barring any 11th-hour hiccups, the Roosters would announce the signing of the Kiwi star tomorrow morning, finally confirming what has been known for some time – that Williams would be returning to rugby league.
Williams, who controversially walked out on the Bulldogs in 2008, is in Sydney recovering from surgery on a torn pectoral muscle, which has forced him to postpone a fight scheduled for November 24 against South Africa's Francois Botha until February. Williams would then join his Roosters teammates at training after the fight.
It is understood the NRL is aware of the plans for the announcement, although it is not yet clear whether a contract has been registered with the governing body.
Given that Williams is still on contract with Japanese rugby union club Panasonic Wild Knights, there had been uncertainty over when Williams would formalise his Roosters deal. As late as last Friday, NRL chief executive Shane Mattiske said no contract had been registered for Williams.
The former All Blacks star is expected to sign a one-year deal with the Roosters, and decide whether to extend his stint at the club towards the end of next year.
Williams is also expected to attend the official announcement, which is likely to be held at Allianz Stadium, the Roosters' home ground. There has been no confirmation about who brokered the deal, given the fact his manager Khoder Nasser, is not an NRL-accredited player agent. It has been clear, though, for some time that the return of Williams was a formality.
"It's a done deal. I made it a long time ago," Williams said in October. "I know where I'm playing next year and I'm ready to meet the challenge head-on. There's no more negotiations that need to be done."
Williams's impending return has divided opinion across the game. Many believe he should not be welcomed back after he so controversially walked out on the Bulldogs to play rugby union with French club Toulon. But others acknowledge the marketability of Williams, who will lift attendances as well as television audiences next season.
Despite a relatively poor season this year, which resulted in their coach Brian Smith being sacked and replaced by Trent Robinson, the Roosters are set to be given opening-night billing in round one next year against South Sydney – primarily because of Williams.
With Williams having been advised the recovery time from his pectoral surgery is 10 to 12 weeks, it is not yet clear whether Williams will play again for the Japanese club side, which he joined after quitting Super Rugby's Chiefs.
The formal announcement of Williams's deal, while having been foreshadowed for some time, will be a boost for the NRL, knowing Parramatta are also expected to secure the now former-AFL player Israel Folau.
Elsewhere, the NRL is likely to announce the new referees boss this week, with former Parramatta and Warriors coach Daniel Anderson firming to take over from Bill Harrigan and Stuart Raper, who were sacked following a review.
Anderson is now understood to be favoured over the likes of interim referees boss Russell Smith, present whistleblower Tony Archer, as well as another experienced NRL coach, Brian Smith.
While he would not confirm that, the NRL's director of football operations Nathan McGuirk said: "We are hoping to finalise the referees leadership structure early this week."