Sonny Bill Williams says he would return to the Chiefs in a flash in the future and even do it for little or no money if he did come back to New Zealand rugby.
Williams yesterday announced he was off to Japan at the end of the Chiefs' Super Rugby season to play for the Panasonic Wild Knights through to next January. The five-month deal is rumoured to be worth about $1.7 million.
A handshake agreement he made several years ago with a National Rugby League club, thought to be the Sydney Roosters, is dictating his move back to the NRL for at least one season next year after his stint in Japan.
That means his 17th test for the All Blacks, played against Ireland in Hamilton last month, was his last for at least two years.
But Williams gave the impression yesterday that he regretted making the league commitment, not knowing just how much he would enjoy playing for the Chiefs and the All Blacks once back in New Zealand.
"If I ever came back to New Zealand rugby I would definitely be a Chief," Williams said.
"Even if there was no money here I'd come and play for free."
Williams said he had not yet signed anything with an NRL club and as such was not able to reveal the name of the club or elaborate further on the agreement.
Knowing he was going to return to Australia to play rugby league, with just the finer points of the one-year contract to be nutted out before signing, he said the Japanese offer to fill in the rest of 2012 and the start of 2013 became too rich to ignore.
"They came to me and gave me an offer and at first I turned it down. But they came back with an offer that I pretty much couldn't refuse," he said.
The deal includes the opportunity to fight one boxing bout during that time, which should allow Williams to go ahead with a mooted fight in South Africa.
But the inference from Williams was that he would have preferred to have stayed with the Chiefs and All Blacks beyond this year if he had not made the earlier commitment to an NRL club, which came in the wake of him walking out on a five-year deal with the Canterbury Bulldogs to go to French rugby club Toulon in 2008.
"I didn't think I would have loved it as much as I have back here. To be honest I kind of felt like I'd found my place at the Chiefs, with the boys, but it just goes back to [the fact] I've given someone my word, this was a while ago, and I've had to go on with it even though it was tough."
Williams said that at the time he made the commitment to league he was not confident he could return to New Zealand and make a success of rugby.
"I might not have been good enough and pressure was certainly on me, it wasn't on anyone else. If it was about the money then I would have just stayed in France [with the Toulon rugby club] where I was getting pretty good coin."
All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster, who attended yesterday's media conference, said Williams was only available for the first couple of matches of the Rugby Championship against Australia, South Africa and Argentina and the coaches felt it was not suitable for him to be played only in those. That opens the way for Ma'a Nonu, who was rested and given time to catch up on his missed pre-season base training, to come back in as the starting second-five in the Rugby Championship.
Foster said, with incumbent centre Conrad Smith playing great rugby, Tamati Ellison was seen as the obvious backup for both midfield players, despite a current hamstring injury."We've just lost a world class player so that's why it's disappointing but it's not new to us having to deal with that and we've just got to push forward. There are some good players there who will want the opportunity."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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