Auckland: All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams says he is braced for the attention that's sure to come when he plays in Sydney this weekend for the first time since 2009.
Williams left for Sydney this afternoon with the All Blacks to play Saturday night's Bledisloe Cup Test against the Wallabies at the massive ANZ Stadium with a crowd of around 80,000 expected.
The All Blacks have their captain's run at the stadium tomorrow, just a few hours before the Bulldogs, the team Williams walked out on in 2008, play the Wests Tigers a few hours later at the same venue.
The microscope will surely fall on Williams this weekend, especially with his highly anticipated return to the NRL ranks next season.
He hasn't played Super Rugby in Sydney with either the Crusaders last year or the title-winning Chiefs this season. He did play for the the Barbarians against the Wallabies at the Sydney Football Stadium in 2009.
“I haven't really thought about it to be honest. Maybe there will be a bit more spotlight on me because of that,” Williams said when asked about the extra focus that was about to come his way with Bulldogs fans having long memories over this polarising figure.
“It doesn't really faze me. I just get on with it. I'll just work on my routine that has worked for me all year … tick all the boxes and not worry about outside things.
“I get it where ever I go … it just comes with the territory.”
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen suggested the match was bigger than the individual, though he did admit Williams was a bit “special”.
“Yeah there will be a little bit more interest [in Williams] because of the league side of the media,” Hansen said.
“He is a special athlete so he probably deserves a bit more interest.
“But rugby is a sport and the Bledisloe Cup itself is quite massive. The game itself is of big interest. Australia have pumped up the Bledisloe Cup all week. I don't think it will come down to Sonny Bill playing or not. It will come down to if the two teams can do justice to the occasion.”
Williams said he was thrilled to have the chance to wind up his time in New Zealand rugby with a chance to play for the All Blacks over the next two weekends. A specially arranged two-week contract between the New Zealand Rugby Union and his new his Japanese club the Panasonic Wild Knights has freed up the World Cup winner to add to his 17 tests before he shifts to Asia on a 12-match deal.
“I thought the dream was over,” he said of playing for the All Blacks again.
He reiterated he was happy to answer the SOS call from Hansen when Conrad Smith was taken out of the equation for the two Bledisloe Cup Test because of eye surgery.
“I jumped at that chance straight away … anything I can do to help … even just come in and run drills against the boys or play … I was more than willing to help.
“I have had a great season with the Chiefs and that chapter is closed. Hopefully I finish my time in New Zealand with something special in the next two Tests.”
Williams has never started a test against Australia, making two short appearances against the Wallabies last year off the bench – the Bledisloe Cup clincher and World Cup semifinal, both at Auckland's Eden Park.
Williams said his combination with centre Ma'a Nonu had worked smoothly in training as the All Blacks field a massive midfield pairing this weekend.
“I've just got to pass him the ball,” laughed Williams.