THE best way to respond to a hairy question is, apparently, with an even hairier answer.
So when New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney was asked at today’s Townsville media conference if Sonny Bill Williams should be allowed to play in the NRL next year if he’s not available for the World Cup, his response outstripped the question easily.
“Sonny’s Japanese rugby union contract this year does not start until October 20, so maybe we’ll run him out here,” Kearney said at the presser, organised to promote the October 13 Test against Australia at Dairy Farmers Stadium.
SBW to play for New Zealand THIS year? “I knew you’d like that one,” the newly-departed Parramatta coach said with a wink.
Australia’s Tim Sheens and Johnathan Thurston, along with New Zealand’s Kearney and Benji Marshall, fronted mostly local media to promote the October 13 trans-Tasman international, the only post-season engagements for the world’s top two countries.
Williams, of course, is heavily tipped to return to rugby league next year with the Sydney Roosters. He’s playing this off-season in Japanese rugby union and there are fears he’ll opt for the Yen rather than a yen for World Cup glory next summer as well.
Kearney – now almost certain to be the Kiwis’ fulltime coach since his departure from Parramatta at the weekend, also threw out his one-liner du jour – “I’m trying to convince some Kiwis to play for New Zealand” – but gave more detail. “We’ll start with big Sam Kasiano, I’ve got some meeting scheduled with him next week,” he said.
“We’ve asked him who his parents would like him to play for and he said ‘New Zealand’.”
Kearney was happy to let his SBW comment hang in the air, which means it was incumbent upon NRL.com to chase him around the room for confirmation about just how serious he was.
“It would be nice to trot him out, wouldn’t it?” Kearney told us, still grinning. “Nah, nah. I was joking. I don’t have any information. You asked the Sonny Bill question and I just threw that out there. But I might check it out.
“It’s (seriously) a fair way away, when he is available to play for New Zealand. Everyone expects he’ll come back ... alright. I expect that too but we’ve built up a group of Kiwi kids now who have been really good for us. It’s a matter of seeing how things transpire for him.
“I’ll have a talk to Sonny about that but we’ve spent the last four years without Sonny.”
But there are other men whose eligibility is under question who may get call-ups in Townsville. Kasiano is one. “Young Josh Papalii ....,” Kearney said in reference to the Canberra forward.
“He’s been on standby but he hasn’t actually been part of a camp as yet. That’s something we’ll look at.”
Kearney is disappointed that Kiwi origin series at senior and under 20s level won’t be happening next year but adds: “We’ll keep working on it.”
But for Kearney, the opportunity to watch Monday Night Football from a corporate box rather than a coaching box, and catch some North Queensland sunrays, was foremost on his mind today.
Both teams will go into camp for the Test in Cairns. Kearney wants eligibility rules sorted out before disoriented players start going to the wrong hotel.