MELBOURNE (REUTERS) – Sonny Bill Williams will make his long-awaited return to Australia’s National Rugby League on Saturday (Sept 5) after being named on the Sydney Roosters’ bench for the repeat of last year’s championship decider against the Canberra Raiders.
Dual code international Williams, who played a leading role in the Roosters’ 2013 championship season, was named in Trent Robinson’s matchday squad on Tuesday.
The 35-year-old was released by Toronto Wolfpack in July after the Canadian team pulled out of the restart of Super League Europe due to financial challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
A twice Rugby World Cup winner with the All Blacks, Williams has jumped through hoops to link up with the defending champion Roosters, who are fourth in the league with three rounds left before the playoffs.
He needed a special permit to return to Australia from Britain due to Covid-19-related border controls and served a 14-day quarantine upon arrival before being free to train.
Williams did not train with his teammates on Monday, fuelling speculation he would miss the trip to Canberra, but the Roosters confirmed he had prepared by himself as part of a special conditioning program ahead of his first match since March.
Due to social distancing rules, a maximum of 3,000 fans are permitted at 25,000-seat Canberra Stadium but the Raiders have asked local health authorities to raise the crowd limit due to interest in the game.
“We would love to get to 50 per cent capacity. We will lobby the government. We want as many people in there as we can,” Raiders chief executive Don Furner said on Monday.
“I’m not sure it will get to 50 per cent but we will have that conversation.”
The Roosters beat the Raiders 14-8 in last year’s ‘Grand Final’ to claim their 15th NRL championship.
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