Williams: League tougher than Union
Sonny Bill Williams admits he is finding it tougher in rugby league as he prepares to make an eagerly-awaited return to the New Zealand side.
The 28-year-old former Canterbury Bulldogs second rower was a huge success in rugby union where, playing as a centre, he helped the All Blacks win the World Cup in his native New Zealand in 2011.
Now back in the 13-man code with newly-crowned premiers Sydney Roosters, Williams is set to figure in the Kiwis' opening match of their World Cup defence against Samoa at Warrington on Sunday and is perfectly placed to compare the two global competitions.
"I guess this is not as big," he told reporters after an open training session in St Helens. "I remember after the first game (of the 2011 World Cup), I went into a media room and there would have been over a hundred cameras and journalists and things like that. It was pretty crazy.
"Obviously rugby (union) is probably a much bigger sport globally. Competitively, I believe rugby league is a lot tougher. Just because in rugby I played in the backs, with the pretty boys kicking stones out wide, doing our hair. In rugby league, I'm in the middle, doing the hard yards. It's a very tough sport."
Williams has not played for the Kiwis since switching codes in controversial circumstances five years ago but he made a spectacular return to league with the Roosters this year and was a late inclusion in Stephen Kearney's tour party as he aims to become the first man to win the World Cup in both codes.
Williams' presence provided a timely boost for both the holders and the tournament but he insists he will be able to cope with expectations.
"There's nothing different," he said. "From the start of this season, there was a lot of pressure. I had everything to lose and the pressure was firmly on me.
"I guess I kind of thrive on that. It gets the best out of me. I seem to be able to push that to one side and focus on all the little things.
"It starts with earning my team-mates' respect through doing the hard work that you don't see on TV, not the flashy stuff. I know once I do that, all the big plays, all the flashy things seem to come off."
Williams, who dashed the hopes of Waikato Chiefs and the NZRU by signing a new contract with the Roosters for 2014, initially made himself unavailable for the World Cup and Kearney was forced to drop Melbourne forward Tohu Harris from his 24-man squad to make way for the ex-Toulon player after he underwent a change of heart.
On Wednesday, at his first interview on British soil, Williams again expressed his regret over the way the situation was handled and insisted he has been made to feel welcome in the squad.
"There are regrets there but I've moved forward," he said. "I told (the) coach that I wouldn't come into the squad if the boys didn't want me but they wanted me to come into the squad and things are going well.
"It's awesome, I'm really excited and I just want to get out there, I wanted to play last week - I asked coach if I could play - but I guess a couple of weeks to get used to the game plan and things like that won't hurt. But I'm raring to go on Sunday if I get picked."
Williams was rested for the Kiwis' friendly against the Cook Islands at Doncaster last Sunday but is expected to win his eighth cap in Sunday's opening World Cup game against Samoa at Warrington.
Meanwhile, Williams confirmed he has put his boxing career on hold and emphatically ruled out any prospect of finishing his career in Super League after Salford's ambitious owner Marwan Koukash expressed hopes of signing the superstar.
"I'm getting a bit too old for that," he said. "I'm pretty content with my home at the Roosters and, if I go back to play rugby (union), it will be with the Chiefs. I think I'll play out my future back home."