Roosters coach Trent Robinson is confident Sonny Bill Williams will be back in red, white and blue as early as next week but may not make his NRL return until the final month of the regular season.
The Tricolours are expected to confirm the return of SBW to the NRL in the coming days, according to Robinson, with both parties in talks to strike up a last-minute deal before to the August 3 mid-season signings deadline.
SBW's Super League club, Toronto Wolfpack, withdrew from the English competition earlier this week due to travel and financial restrictions in the northern hemisphere.
"We're down the track in discussions with Sonny," Robinson said on Friday morning.
"There's a few things that need to be done to get it sorted but conversations are clear … it's just all the details that need to get sorted with how it's going to work.
"Travel won't be until next week, it's hard to get flights back, and then a quarantine period and training period.
"It is going to be towards the back end with four or five games to go, that would be the earliest I would think.
"He's a Rooster and he's going to add value in some key areas."
Williams, 34, returned to rugby league with the Wolfpack this year after stints with the Roosters (2013-14) and New Zealand rugby union.
NRL players open to SBW return
He is preparing to fly to Sydney from the UK as the Roosters free up a roster spot for the dual-code superstar but his $10 million Toronto Wolfpack deal is the only stumbling block left to 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.
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.
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.
The return of Williams would generate global publicity but the NRL's loan arrangement only applies to Telstra Premiership clubs not Super League teams.
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.
He's a Rooster and he's going to add value in some key areas.Trent Robinson
"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."
ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys is keen to see SBW in the NRL again.
The halfway mark: Try of the year
"He’s a big brand and he’ll attract a lot of attention to our sport," V’landys told 2GB on Friday morning.
"We’ll help them in any way we can but we certainly won’t be providing any financial assistance. That goes for any club, not just the Roosters. When you’ve got a player of the magnitude of Sonny Bill Williams you do everything you can to get him into our competition.
"It’s a matter for border security but I’m pretty confident that he will be allowed into Australia."
SBW 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 the Wests Tigers or Roosters on Kepaoa, but it is understood he 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's 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 full presser: Robinson addresses SBW's looming arrival
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.
Regardless of the way contract negotiations continue to play out, Robinson's immediate attention is addressing the side's 6-4 start to the season at the halfway mark of the regular season.
They are coming off a four-point loss in the grand final rematch to Canberra heading into Saturday's stoush with the Warriors.
The halfway mark: Tackle of the year
"I feel like we've been really focused and dialled into the way we want to play," Robinson said.
"We felt like we've got lessons we've needed to improve on over the last three weeks especially and we've had time to reflect on that, talk about it and go about that at training.
"We want to improve definitely and we're focused on moving forward against the Warriors."
Payten shows disdain for player loan deals
Interim Warriors coach Todd Payten hit out at rival NRL clubs earlier this week for their lack of will in offering quality players on loan deals for the second half of the season.
The Warriors are searching for up to four more players in the coming weeks with David Fusitu'a, Ken Maumalo, Agnatius Paasi and King Vuniyayawa due to return home following Saturday's clash.
The Tricolours are one of two clubs to have helped the travelling Warriors with a loan player this year but had to recall Poasa Faamausili when injuries struck.
"It was very much a positive for us for Poasa to go up there and play and we had another who couldn't work out for family reasons," Robinson said.
"We see as a benefit for them and the Roosters. I think allowing those players not to play, to offering them NRL experience, is really vital."