THE New Zealand Rugby League accept they will polarise opinion with their decision to make Sonny Bill Williams a late addition to the Kiwis’ World Cup squad.
But chief executive Phil Holden says the Sydney Roosters second rower is an “undeniable talent” who will have a significant impact on and off the field.
Williams was a notable omission when the Kiwis’ original 24-man squad was named on Tuesday, after he told coach Stephen Kearney he was unavailable because of “other commitments”.
His subsequent selection led to 21-year-old Melbourne Storm back-rower Tohu Harris being embarrassingly dropped on Wednesday to keep the squad to the 24-man World Cup limit.
Williams’ U-turn produced what Holden says was “a difficult time for everyone involved”.
But he said New Zealand were intent on retaining the world title and the senior leadership group of players had been consulted about his selection and gave unanimous support.
“We want to win the World Cup, we want to take the best team,” he said.
“He (Williams) is clearly an undeniable talent, but we recognise it’s a polarising decision.”
Only time will tell if Williams can be the difference in retaining the trophy – “But I think our chances have increase significantly – you can’t deny that,” Holden said.
He believed the NZRL had acted with integrity and respect in the way they conveyed the news to Harris.
He also said whatever decision was made would have its supporters and detractors.
Williams, 28, played seven Tests for the Kiwis before his controversial departure from the Canterbury Bulldogs in mid-2008 to switch to rugby in France.”
He went on to become part of the All Blacks’ rugby World Cup-winning campaign in 2011.
He also won a Super Rugby title with the Chiefs last year and had a key part in the Roosters’ NRL grand final victory on Sunday.
Holden said Williams was “hugely excited” about his inclusion in the squad.
“I think he felt that, in 2008, when he missed the last World Cup, that he missed an opportunity,” he said.
“He didn’t want to miss this one and he had had time to reflect on that.”
Holden added that Williams was aware of the difficulty he had created for the NZRL and for Kearney, and the personal impact on Harris.
Harris, 21, made his Test debut in this year’s Anzac Test.
The Kiwis proposed taking him to Britain in a development role, but the Storm decided it was in his best interests to bring forward minor surgery and have a good off-season.