By 3 News online staff
All Black Sonny Bill Williams has announced that he will be playing his rugby in Japan for club side Panasonic.
He opened the press conference in Hamilton today by thanking the NZRU, his Chiefs coach, teammates and the media, before conceding “… I’m nervous”.
“It’s a pretty big occasion today, not just in my sporting career but … in my life,” he said.
Williams announced he will be leaving New Zealand after the 2012 Super Rugby season and will not return in 2013.
“This is due to a handshake agreement made a few years ago with an NRL club.
“I am not in a position to elaborate on that… I’d appreciate if you’d respect my wishes.”
The lucrative Japanese deal with powerhouse Panasonic Wild Knights has been reported to be worth $1.7 million for 12 games, and Williams, prior to today’s announcement, had already featured among a list of registered players for the 2013 season in the Japanese Top League.
After his Japanese stint, Williams’ five-year ban from NRL will have expired, leaving the door open for a return to rugby league in Australia
It is thought he will sign with the Sydney Roosters.
SBW received the ban in 2008 after walking out on the Canterbury Bulldogs mid-season to switch codes and play rugby union in France for Toulon.
It’s been reported his return to rugby league will net him a contract worth $640,000, though it’s believed the deal with the club has yet to be finalised.
The shift announced today will mean he will not play for the All Blacks in the upcoming Bledisloe Cup clashes with the Wallabies or in the Rugby Championship, which replaces the Tri Nations.
The offer from the Japanese club for Williams’ services is the largest that Panasonic had made for a player, surpassing the $YS1.1 million for South African Jacque Fourie, with his contract also having room to continue with boxing – the New Zealand Heavyweight champion expected to step back into the ring this November.
Japan will host the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and it’s expected that Williams will be heavily involved in the promotion of the competition in the country.