Sonny Bill Williams is preparing to fly to Sydney as the Roosters free up a roster spot for the dual-code superstar but his $10 million Toronto Wolfpack deal may prevent another stunning NRL comeback.
Williams, who holds a New Zealand passport, is seeking permission to travel directly to Australia with his wife Alana and their four children, with a view to joining the Roosters for the remainder of the season.
However, the most significant hurdle to his return is a rule precluding players from holding simultaneous contracts with an NRL club and a team in another sporting competition.
Under NRL rules, Williams would be required to terminate his two-year $10 million contract with the Wolfpack before signing another deal with the Roosters or any other club for that matter.
Despite withdrawing from the Super League this week, the Wolfpack want to rejoin the competition in 2021 and Williams does not intend to walk away from his $5 million per season deal.
While unique circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic left Williams and other Wolfpack players without a team, the NRL has given no indication exemptions would be considered.
NRL players open to SBW return
The return of Williams would generate global publicity for the Telstra Premiership but there is no loan arrangement between NRL and Super League clubs.
The NRL's loan system is restricted to its own clubs.
If the NRL stand in the way of Williams returning, Wolfpack owner David Argyle said he would be prepared to terminate the current two-year deal with the dual premiership winner and draw up a new contract for 2021.
"If Sonny wants to play NRL for the remainder of the season and come back to the Wolfpack, how it is done is semantics," Argyle told Channel Nine.
"Fundamentally, all we are doing is using loopholes that can be orchestrated or lawyerised to get around the intent."
In the meantime, Williams is hoping to fly to Sydney next week, pending approval from Australian Border Force authorities and the availability of flights as arrival numbers are limited.
He is hoping his wife's Australian passport will help him to be granted entry to the country, with a two-week isolation period to follow.
They would also need permission for two of their children, who were born in New Zealand. The other two were born in Australia.
The Roosters have opened a roster spot that Williams could fill with uncapped outside back Asu Kepaoa set to join Wests Tigers on a mid-season transfer.
No official comment has been made by either the Wests Tigers or Roosters, but it is understood Kepaoa will link with the joint-venture over the weekend.
The Tigers had already signed Kepaoa, a big-bodied youngster capable of playing fullback, centre and wing, for 2021 and 2022 before a recent request to have him for the rest of this season was knocked back by the Roosters.
Williams' sudden possible availability changed that stance this week, with Kepaoa to make an early move to Concord and free up a roster spot on Bondi.
It's understood the Roosters have around $200,000 of salary cap space still available for 2020, with any paperwork bringing Williams to the club needing to be sorted out by the August 3 transfer deadline.
Any NRL contract must also reflect what the governing body determines to be his market value.
The same stipulation scuppered Parramatta’s efforts to sign Israel Folau out of AFL in 2012.
Potentially working in the Roosters' favour on that front is the fact Williams hasn't played in the NRL since his last stint with the club in 2014.
Rival clubs including Canterbury and the Warriors have inquired about securing Williams on a short-term deal, but his longstanding relationships with chairman Nick Politis and coach Trent Robinson have the Roosters as clear front-runners for the former All Black.