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New Zealand rugby
Sonny Bill confirms union exit
ESPN Staff
July 9, 2012
The Chiefs' Sonny Bill Williams celebrates his second-half score, Chiefs v Crusaders, Super Rugby, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand, July 6, 2012
Sonny Bill Williams is set to leave the Chiefs © Getty Images
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All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams has confirmed he will join the Wild Knights in Japan next month ahead of a likely return to rugby league next season.

The 26-year-old centre ended weeks of speculation regarding his playing future at a press conference in Hamilton earlier today where he confirmed he will leave New Zealand at the end of the current Super Rugby season. Following his stint in the Top League with the Wild Knights, Williams is widely expected to join the Australian National Rugby League outfit the Sydney Roosters although he insisted no deal has yet been signed.

His decision to leave New Zealand means he will not be available for the All Blacks' forthcoming Rugby Championship campaign or the end of year tour of Europe but he has not ruled a return to the 15-man code in the future.

"One day I would love to come back but in saying that I'm not going to hold my breath because there are some great players here coming through who deserve all that they get," he said. "I've chosen my path and now I've got to walk it.

"I didn't think I would love it as much as I have here. To be honest, I feel I've found my place here at the Chiefs, with the boys, but it just goes back to I've given someone my word. This was a while ago and I've had to go on with that, even though it's tough."

Asked if he would prefer to stay with the Chiefs and All Blacks, he said: "In a perfect world, yes. It's a pretty difficult situation, but I just have to make the most of it. If all things go well I will be playing league next year. I can't start that with this [regret] at the back of my mind, I've got to start fresh and give it my all."

Williams, who made a controversial exit from rugby league four years ago mid-way through his contract with the Canterbury Bulldogs, refused to confirm his movements beyond his stint in Japan but revealed his decision was sealed with a "handshake" before he even return to New Zealand in 2010.

"It goes back to pretty much not breaking something that I've told someone that I'd do," Williams said. "I knew that I was going overseas next year and they come give me an offer and at first I turned it down but they come back with an offer that I just pretty much couldn't refuse. They gave me a picture as well and just the way that they brought it across I couldn't refuse it."

All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said while Williams has been with New Zealand rugby for only a short time, his contribution has been immense. "He came to New Zealand rugby two years ago as a 'convert' player and was similar to Brad Thorn in that regard - players with high-level skills and freakish abilities without a fully developed game understanding for the new code," he said.

"This season we have seen the birth of Sonny as a rugby player, with his game understanding now complementing his array of skills. His performances in the Steinlager Series Tests against Ireland reflected this - he was world class.

"It is a shame and disappointing that New Zealand rugby is losing him. In talking to him, I know the decision has been a tough one but we fully respect why he has made this decision. He is an outstanding athlete who has stamped his mark on the game and hopefully this is not the last time we see him in New Zealand rugby.

"I would also like to acknowledge Sonny's manager Koder Nasser. Koder has been nothing but straight up in his dealings with myself and the NZRU and kept us informed right from day one. We may not always agree, but we have appreciated his honesty and transparency."

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie praised Williams for his loyalty, and urged the club's fans to respect his decision. "People are going to be questioning his loyalty to be heading away. Really it's commitment that is taking him away from here. He made an agreement on a handshake and he's following through on that. He should be applauded for that rather than put down for it," Rennie said.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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