FIRST ON EWN: Sonny Bill eyes Super Rugby glory

Sonny Bill Williams says he dreams of winning the Super Rugby trophy with the Chiefs.

Sonny Bill Williams celebrates with teammate. Picture: AFP

CAPE TOWN - The fact that All Black and Chiefs star centre Sonny Bill Williams announced last week that he was going to put his Rugby Union career on hold, didn't come as any great surprise.

The speed of it did though, as he confirmed that as soon as this year's Super Rugby campaign finishes he will be leaving to take up a short-term contract with Japanese team the Panasonic Wild Knights and in the process forgo the chance to play in the inaugural Rugby Championship.

That will bring to an end over five years in the code in which the 26-year-old has won a World Cup, played for two different Super Rugby franchises and been a star in France's Top 14 with Toulon. His return to the National Rugby League, having formally played for the Bulldogs, is the result of an agreement sealed with a handshake made while still in France.

Speaking exclusively to EWN Sport , Williams says that the decision he's made was not an easy one to arrive at: "It was a pretty tough decision but I had an agreement to go back to the NRL next year.

"I could have stayed around to play in the Rugby Championship but then Japan came with an offer. First I turned them down before they came with another that I would have been crazy to turn down.

"I've chosen to embrace it and go over there and enjoy myself. It will be pretty cool to see what's happening over there," he says.

Williams' career is the antithesis of any other modern player by the virtue of the fact that while also having a storied Union and League career, he has also embarked on a career as a professional boxer.

There are sectors of the media and public who've accused him of being a mercenary, it's something though that he is quick to rebuff as he time and again puts his own reputation on the line he says.

"I think that a lot of people think that my manager goes out there and shops me around but it's the opposite, he doesn't do anything.

"I just try and perform on the field; and I believe if you're performing on the field then the offers will come. They (the Wild Knights) must have seen me play in the World Cup and in last year's Super Comp and must have liked what they'd seen."

The Chiefs finished second on this year's Super Rugby log which sees them host a semi-final on the 28th of July. It's a competition that Williams desperately wants to win to add to his notable list of achievements.

"I want to leave New Zealand on a high. A lot of people wrote us off at the start of the year but we knew as a team that we had a lot to prove. That's what motivated us, we were all in the same boat; we're a new franchise, not just players but as coaches too, and we had something to prove and we've done that so far. But we've lost our last 2 games on the trot and it's been pretty tough. This week hopefully we can fix a few things and get to where we were before that break."

Williams and his manager Khoder Nasser have refused to divulge which NRL club he is to join next year but says that they made the decision when he was still uncertain as to what his Rugby Union career held and that now he is honouring that promise.

"The deal was struck a few years ago when I didn't know what I was going to do. I hadn't even come back to New Zealand at that stage, coming back here I didn't know what was in store for me so back then it was good to have something solid (in place)."

For the large numbers of his fans out there does this mean that he's unlikely to ever take to the field in a game of Union again?

"Nothing is settled with me when it comes to playing-wise. You know for me it's as long as I'm playing good and the boys are happy with what I'm doing. I just want to be one of the boys, but I want to play well for whoever I play for. It's a pride thing as much as anything. As long as I'm doing that, then anything's possible.

"I wouldn't have thought that three years ago I would have I'd be here in this situation. I think that's a good thing. A lot of people think of me, or look at me, or take me in the wrong way in the sense that I only sign 1 year deals, in that I only want to get the best deal for myself. But they forget though that the pressure's on me as well, I have to perform every year and that's what gets the best out of me."

"That's what I do, I've been doing this since I was 17," he emphasizes. "I will always choose the way I know that will get the best out of me, whatever I do. And that's the same with the boxing career as well.

"Every year I know that the pressure's on me to perform, if you don't perform then no one will want you. I've seen far too many players get to that age where they're probably not performing as well as they have in previous year's and skip the cut. People, before they go start asking questions about that, they should look at the whole picture as well."

In departing Williams has indicated that should he ever return to New Zealand the only team that he will play for is the Chiefs. Having started his career at Toulon would he also consider a return to the South of France?

"That's always an option I guess, you never close any door especially when you have fond memories of that place. Playing for the Rouge et Noir was pretty special, I had some really good times there.

"Mourad Boudjellal is a special man, he loves Toulon wholeheartedly; he put everything into it and you've got to admire that," Williams says.

"I don't know what tomorrow holds, I just want to play good and do myself and my family proud. Like I said if I ever came back to New Zealand I wouldn't play for anyone else other than the Chiefs and if I ever went back to France it'd be tough to play for any other club, other than Toulon."

Williams, along with Australian star Quade Cooper (who is also managed by Nasser), was set to play in the lucrative George Sevens event later in the year. He says though that with his move to Japan, that would appear to be off the cards.

"I don't think so, on my Twitter a lot of people have asked me but I haven't even spoken to Khoder about that. At this stage I'm fully focused the Chiefs and whatever comes after," he says.

The devout Muslim has garnered a large support base in South Africa - and Cape Town, in particular. If the Chiefs and the Stormers win through to the final of Super Rugby, then his parting act in a Chiefs jersey will be at Newlands, a fitting send-off perhaps?

"It would be and I've always said Cape Town's like a second home. It was special last year when I went there with the Crusaders. Just knowing that people know your name in a country like South Africa was pretty crazy, but the amount of support especially in Cape Town was unbelievable.

"To all the South African supporters I'd just like to say thanks for your unwavering support. I wouldn't care where we played as long as we made the Super Rugby final if it is in Cape Town then that would be pretty special," Williams says.