Sonny Bill Williams is returning to Super Rugby in 2015 - and could be off to the Olympics in 2016.
The dual-code superstar has signed a two-year deal with the New Zealand Rugby Union and the Chiefs Super Rugby franchise for 2015-2016.
And the Chiefs have confirmed they won't stand in the way of Williams chasing his Olympic dream in 2016.
It was announced yesterday that following the coming NRL season with the Sydney Roosters, Williams will move back to New Zealand, playing for the Chiefs while also chasing Rugby World Cup success with the All Blacks in Britain.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said he was rapt Williams was returning but admitted he could play very little for the Chiefs in 2016.
"He made a massive impression on the franchise when he was with us a couple of years back and we've made no secret of the fact we wanted to get him back," Rennie said.
"There's some things to be sorted out over the next year or so.
"Post-World Cup he will make some big decisions about what he wants to do."
Should he choose to pursue sevens rugby, with the chance of a gold medal at the Rio Olympics, Williams would have to play on the international sevens circuit, Rennie said.
"We wouldn't stop him either.
"If that's what he wants to do, we'll support that. Likewise with other players who want to play in the Olympics. That's a rare opportunity for the players."
Williams would also be unable to play in All Blacks games in 2016 if he commits to sevens, at least until the end-of-season tour.
Rennie does not expect it will take Williams long to get back into the swing of rugby union when he returns. In fact, it should take all of five minutes.
"Last time he came over, it took him about two games to make a huge impression on the field, and that was very early on. He's been in the environment and played the game, so he'll have no problems.
"I think he'll slot back in nicely.
"He'll be back in five minutes."
Williams was unavailable for comment yesterday but manager Khoder Nasser said he was looking forward to pushing for a place in the All Blacks and then trying to book a trip to the Olympics.
Chiefs chief executive Andrew Flexman said Williams' return would be a "massive bonus" for the franchise.
"I haven't worked with him personally but whenever there is talk about him within the Chiefs, people glow about him.
"He will get bums on seats, and people will be buying shirts and other items because he is back.
"It's great for the franchise.
"From what I've been told, Sonny Bill is a consummate pro.
"He's the last to leave training, last to leave a game, and then he will spend extra time with fans.
"We're just thrilled to have him back," Flexman said.
New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew said he was delighted Williams would be returning to New Zealand.
"Sonny showed in his two years with New Zealand rugby that he is an outstanding talent and was a real asset to our game."
Rennie said the speculation about Williams' future would now end, although questions would remain over whether he would play sevens. "I get really frustrated when you hear negative press about him, with comments from people who know nothing about him. He's just a quality man and an outstanding role model.
"We can't wait to get him back."
Williams has played 19 tests for the All Blacks and 18 matches for the Chiefs. He left New Zealand rugby in 2012, completing a short stint in Japanese rugby before taking up his role at the Roosters last year.
'I WOULDN'T SAY I WAS OBSESSED'
Santa has already outdone himself this year for thousands of Chiefs fans.
He stopped in at Hamilton a few days early and dropped off the gift they had been hoping for: Sonny Bill Williams.
As news of the sporting superstar's return to the Chiefs in 2014 spread across the Waikato, Ariana O'Connor, of Hamilton, was prompted to reminisce about the 2011 World Cup.
"I wouldn't say I was obsessed. But I was a pretty big fan."
She's been watching the comments pop up on news stories about the star's return and is pretty disappointed by most of them.
"I don't know why so many people are so negative about him. He's a really talented sportsperson and it's not like the Chiefs coach picks him for his looks or because he's a celebrity now. He picks him for his skills," she said.
The now 20-year-old has met the superstar three times. Once at a signing, once outside the Novotel when the All Blacks played in Hamilton, and she got the best 18th birthday present when she ran into him while out celebrating with her friends. She did miss out once when he visited the restaurant where she works.
"He came in for green tea and I wasn't there. I was quite upset."
That was 2011 and Miss O'Connor remembers the Rugby World Cup fondly. She had an All Blacks jersey emblazoned with the initials S.B.W.
To her, it stood for "Sonny Bill's Wahine".
Underneath the text is the superstar's autograph - she staked out a Rebel Sport signing and ducked through hordes of screaming girls. SBW thought it was a bit of a laugh.
"He just chuckled. There were three others there and they were like: Where's my jersey?"
She still wears that jersey, despite constant approaches to sell it. But fandom is one thing, romance is another. She already has a Sonny in her life. "Well, he went to Aussie so I just went and found another rugby player called Sonny."
And although she still sings the praises of the superstar, there's no way she's ditching her man for him.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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