New Zealand All Black Sonny Bill Williams announced at a press conference today that he will be leaving the Waikato Chiefs at the end of the Super Rugby season and heading to Japan to join his new club, the Panasonic Wild Knights (page needs translation) for the start of the Japanese Rugby Season. During the press conference Williams discussed how much of a surprise the impact of playing rugby in his home country impacted him.
“I didn’t think I would love it as much as I have, back here,” Williams said. “To be honest, I’ve kinda felt like I’ve found my place at the Chiefs.”
By moving to Japan, Williams is removing himself from consideration for the All Blacks squad as they prepare for the 2012 Rugby Championship tournament with New Zealand-Australia-South Africa-Argentina, and possibly might be the permanent end of his All Black career. Williams ended his current All Black career on a strong note, scoring nearly back-to-back tries in the first half for New Zealand in their final summer test, beating Ireland 60-0.
It’s expected that this was a first step for Williams to move from Rugby Union back to Rugby League, and possibly a larger salary. Despite being a fairly popular player with All Black Nation, Williams did not show the same dedication to his national team that many fans wanted, opting to sign year-to-year contracts instead of long-term agreements with the New Zealand Rugby Football Union.
Williams has not actually signed his contract and no terms have yet been released, but according to Sports Illustrated:
Australian media has speculated Williams will receive up to $1.2 million for his short stint with the Panasonic Wild Knights and could receive more than $800,000 to rejoin the Bulldogs National Rugby League club that he quit in 2008.
Despite any concerns about Sonny Bill Williams’ dedication to his national team, I’d like to wish him well in his future rugby endeavors and hope his eventual move to Rugby League pans out the way he hopes.