WELLINGTON // Dual rugby international Sonny Bill Williams was omitted from the New Zealand squad named Tuesday to defend the upcoming Rugby League World Cup after telling selectors he had “other commitments”.
Williams’ snub will intensify speculation he is poised to return to rugby union after winning the National Rugby League grand final with the Sydney Roosters at the weekend.
The code-hopping 28-year-old has been coy about his intentions since the victory over the Manly Sea Eagles, with the New Zealand Rugby Union and Super Rugby champions the Waikato Chiefs keen to regain his services.
His absence from the Kiwis’ squad for the World Cup in England and Wales from October 26 to November 30 is a major blow to New Zealand’s chances of defending the title they won in 2008.
The official team sheet released by the New Zealand Rugby League said only that Williams had not been considered due to “other commitments” and coach Stephen Kearney refused to elaborate on the player’s plans.
“I’m sure we’d all like to know what they are, but we’ll hear about that in the next two or three weeks,” Kearney told reporters.
“There would be no point asking me what his other commitments are because I don’t know.”
Williams himself was giving nothing away, tweeting: “Wishing the Kiwis all the best in their title defence. Having my first break since 2008, looking forward to spending time with fam n friends.”
Williams’ lucrative sideline as a journeyman boxer further clouds his future, with New Zealand media reporting he is considering a bout against 47-year-old Australian Bob Mirovic in February before the rugby season begins.
The player began his career in league, winning an NRL title with the Canterbury Bulldogs before quitting to play rugby union in 2008.
He forced his way into the All Blacks, playing a part in their 2011 World Cup victory, and claimed the Super Rugby title last year with the Chiefs.
A move back to the 15-man code would potentially put him in the frame for the All Blacks’ 2015 World Cup defence and a spot in the New Zealand sevens team at the 2016 Olympics.
Four of Williams’ team-mates from the weekend’s grand final were included in the Kiwis’ 24-man squad -- Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Sam Moa, Frank-Paul Nu’uausala and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
Another Rooster, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, was left out after breaking his jaw in the game, while Kieran Foran was the sole representative from beaten finalists Manly.
Captain Simon Mannering is one of seven survivors from the 2008 World Cup-winning squad, alongside Manu Vatuvei, Thomas Leuluai, Issac Luke, Jason Nightingale, Krisnan Inu and Greg Eastwood.