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Sonny William Williams (born 3 August 1985) is a New Zealand heavyweight boxer, and a former professional rugby league and rugby union player. He is only the second person to represent New Zealand in rugby union after first playing for the country in rugby league, and is one of only 21 players to have won the Rugby World Cup twice.[4]

Williams began his career in rugby league, and has played as a second-row forward over eight seasons in three spells in the National Rugby League (NRL), with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and Sydney Roosters. He has won 12 caps for New Zealand (the Kiwis) and won the RLIF Awards for Rookie of the Year in 2004 and International Player of the Year in 2013. In 2020 he played for the Toronto Wolfpack in Super League, before moving to Sydney Roosters the same year.

He first moved to rugby union in 2010 and played mainly as a centre for Toulon in France, Canterbury, Counties Manukau, the Crusaders, Chiefs and Blues in New Zealand and Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan. He won 58 caps for New Zealand (the All Blacks), and was part of the teams that won the 2011 and 2015 World Cups. He also played rugby sevens for New Zealand, competing in the 2015–16 World Rugby Sevens Series and the 2016 Olympics. He retired from both rugby codes in March 2021.

Williams has boxed professionally ten times. He was the New Zealand Professional Boxing Association (NZPBA) Heavyweight Champion and World Boxing Association (WBA) International Heavyweight Champion, but was stripped of these titles after failing to respond to challenges.[5]

Williams was born on 3 August 1985, in Auckland, New Zealand, the son of a Samoan father, Ioane ("John") Williams and mother, Lee Woolsey who is half-New Zealander and half-Australian.[6][7] He has an older brother, John Arthur, and younger twin sisters, Niall and Denise.[8][9]

Williams grew up in a working-class family in a state house in the Auckland suburb of Mount Albert.[9] In describing his struggling family background, Williams later said that the "driving factor" in his pursuit of playing professional rugby league was to "get my mum a house."[10] He attended Owairaka School,[11] Wesley Intermediate and Mount Albert Grammar School. As a child he has been described as being a "small, skinny white kid"[12] who was "painfully shy", as well as "a freakish sporting talent, a competitive sprinter, a champion high jumper and cross country runner and the kid who played footy in teams a couple of age divisions above, to make things fairer."[9] Despite being tipped to have a promising future in athletics, Williams abandoned it when he was about twelve years old.[8] Though his father was an accomplished rugby league player, Williams has said it was his mother who introduced him to the game.[13]

Williams was a Marist Saints junior when he was spotted playing in Auckland by Bulldogs talent scout John Ackland.[14] In 2002 he was offered a contract and moved to Sydney (as the youngest player to ever sign with an NRL club) to play in the Bulldogs' junior grades.[15][16][17] While training professionally, Williams worked full-time as a labourer.[18] He advanced up the ranks quickly: becoming a starting player in the forward pack for the Bulldogs' Jersey Flegg Cup side in his first year. The following year Williams cemented a starting spot in the Premier League side.[19] He also represented NSW as a junior; however, in 2013, when the NSW team investigated whether he could represent them in State of Origin, it was found that he only met two of the five necessary qualifications.[20]

In 2004, when eighteen years old, Williams made his NRL debut for Canterbury-Bankstown against the Parramatta Eels at Telstra Stadium. In 2004, he was selected by New Zealand after only a handful of NRL games and on 23 April made his debut for the Kiwis as their youngest-ever Test player in the 2004 ANZAC Test against Australia.[15] He had previously played for the Junior Kiwis.[8] Williams played fifteen NRL matches during the season, establishing himself in the Canterbury squad. He experienced premiership success in his debut season and became the youngest person to play for Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in a grand final when playing off the bench in the Bulldogs' 16–13 victory over the Sydney Roosters in the 2004 NRL Grand Final.[15] Williams capped a successful debut season by receiving the 2004 RLIF Awards' International Newcomer of the Year Award and being named in Rugby League World magazine's 2004 World XIII.[21] As 2004 NRL premiers, Canterbury-Bankstown faced Super League IX champions, the Leeds Rhinos, in the 2005 World Club Challenge, which Canterbury lost 32–39.

Williams's contract was due to expire in 2005, and he received several offers to lure him away from the Bulldogs. The largest offer was rumoured to be about $3 million from UK Super League club St Helens.[22] Williams decided to stay with Canterbury-Bankstown and signed on for a further two years. St Helens chairman Eamonn McManus later said the club had not made an offer to him.[23]

Williams had a shortened 2005 season after sustaining a severe knee injury and several minor injuries. He played five games throughout the year and subsequently missed several internationals for New Zealand. Williams expressed his frustration, stating "You've got to be pretty strong mentally when you have injuries, and I've had a few."[24] Williams later adamantly dismissed claims he was injury prone.[25]

Williams stayed relatively injury-free throughout the 2006 season, playing in 21 matches and scoring eight tries. The Canterbury-Bankstown club were beaten in the preliminary final by eventual premiers the Brisbane Broncos. However, off-season surgery forced Williams to miss the Tri-Nations for New Zealand for the second consecutive year.[26]

In the first game of the 2007 season, Williams was sent off and subsequently suspended for two weeks for a high tackle on Andrew Johns. He thus became the first player of the 21st century to be sent off in a first-round game.[27] Speculation surrounding Williams's playing future ended when he re-signed with Canterbury on 9 March 2007 for a five-year contract worth over $2.5 million, extending through to the 2012 season.[28] Williams was selected to play for the Kiwis as a second-row forward in the 2007 Anzac Test loss against Australia.[29] He went on to play in 21 matches for the Bulldogs; scored fourteen tries and topped the competition, for the second successive year, for most offloads.[30] However, Williams broke his forearm in a tackle on Nathan Hindmarsh during the semi-final against the Parramatta Eels. His team lost the match, and Williams was again ruled out from representing New Zealand in the post-season 2007 Great Britain Tour. He was nominated for 'Second-Rower of the Year' at the 2007 Dally M Awards; however, Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles second-rower Anthony Watmough won the award.

On 13 November 2012, Williams confirmed he would be returning to rugby league after signing a one-year deal with the Sydney Roosters for the 2013 NRL season.[31] His return was undertaken to honour a handshake agreement with Roosters chairman Nick Politis.[32] It took over a month before his contract was officially approved and registered by the Australian Rugby League Commission; he was "frogmarched into League Central to be grilled as part of the probe" into his contract.[33][34] Williams's return coincided with the banning of the shoulder charge, a manoeuvre of which he has been described as the best and most famous exponent.[35][36][37][38]

On 7 March, Williams made his debut for the Roosters before a record first round crowd and television audience;[39] he also scored his first try for his new club.[40] On 1 April, Williams scored his second try in the Roosters' 50–0 win over the Eels—their biggest ever victory against Parramatta and the first time they had kept their opposition scoreless in consecutive matches since 1999.[41] On 12 April he scored twice in his first encounter against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, with the 38–0 result being the Roosters' largest ever victory over Canterbury.[42] On 5 May he scored his fifth try against the Panthers.[43] On 16 June, Williams scored his sixth try against the Warriors.[44] On 28 July, Williams scored his seventh try against Newcastle, but he was given a two match suspension for a grade three careless high tackle on former Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs teammate Willie Mason.[45][46] On 19 August, after returning from suspension, Williams scored his eighth try against the Wests Tigers.[47] On 6 September he was named man-of-the-match as the Roosters claimed the NRL minor premiership and J. J. Giltinan Shield against the Rabbitohs in front of a record NRL regular season crowd of 59,708.[48][49] On 6 October, Williams played in the grand final against Manly, with the Roosters claiming the premiership 26–18. Williams later said of the victory "I didn't cry, but it was the first time I've come close to crying."[50] Subsequently, he was awarded the Jack Gibson Medal as the Roosters' player of the year.[51][52] Several days later he announced that he would continue playing for the Roosters into 2014[53]—the first time he had played consecutive seasons for one team since leaving Toulon in 2010.[54]

Following the NRL season, Williams announced himself unavailable for international selection. As a result, New Zealand named a 24-man squad without him; however, after reversing his self-exclusion he was added to the squad at the expense of Tohu Harris.[55] On 27 October, Williams played in his first Test game in over five years—and his first victory for the Kiwis—while playing against Samoa.[56][57] In his second game of the tournament, Williams scored three tries against Papua New Guinea, in a man-of-the-match performance.[58] In the week leading up to the final, Williams was awarded the Rugby League International Federation's 'International Player of the Year' award for 2013; he cried when his teammates performed an impromptu haka for him at the award ceremony.[59][60] He went on to play in the World Cup final, where New Zealand were defeated by Australia.

On 6 March 2014, Williams and the Roosters began the 2014 NRL season with a loss to rivals the Rabbitohs; he was suspended for three games as a result of a shoulder charge on George Burgess in the final minute of the game.[61] He returned in round five in a loss to the Bulldogs.[62] On 12 April, Williams played his 100th NRL game against Parramatta—the same club he marked his debut against with the Bulldogs.[63] On 23 May he scored twice against the Bulldogs to register his first points of the season.[64] On 8 June, Williams scored his third try against the Melbourne Storm.[65] Following the game against Newcastle, he revealed he had suffered a fractured thumb and would be sidelined for up to four weeks.[66] During his recovery he was a guest host on the Nine Network's Footy Show[67] and was part of a high-profile delegation to launch the NRL's Pacific Strategy in Samoa.[68][69][70] After missing three games, Williams returned against the Warriors.[71] On 26 September, Williams's two-year tenure in the NRL ended following the minor premiers' preliminary final loss to the Rabbitohs. However, Williams did not rule out a return to the Roosters in the future.[72]

In February 2019, Williams was linked with a move to Toronto Wolfpack, the first Canadian professional club to play in the British rugby league system.[73] After their promotion to the Super League, Williams agreed to switch back to rugby league and signed for the club on 7 November.[74] The two-year deal was reportedly worth up to $10 million.

Following the Wolfpack announcing their withdrawal due to financial constraints which were enforced by the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, rumours had circled around the NRL that the league would loosen the contracting rules to allow for clubs to bring some of these team-less players in limbo to come back & play in the NRL if a club would sign them.

Subsequently, the injury-ravaged Sydney Roosters, who at one stage were missing 11 of their top 17. The superstar forward was paid $150,000 to play the last four rounds of the competition and finals in their attempt to complete their premiership hat-trick.[75] Williams' Toronto teammate, Ricky Leutele signed with rivals Melbourne Storm for the remainder of 2020. Williams returned against the Canberra Raiders in round 17 off the interchange bench playing 13 minutes, Williams made four runs for 23 metres, one offload and 5 tackles, in his team's 18–6 victory.

His final game would be the loss in the home semi-final against Canberra at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Williams announced his retirement via Instagram in early 2021, days after former Crusaders and dual World Cup-winning All Black teammate Dan Carter.

In July 2008, after linking up with new manager Khoder Nasser,[76] Williams left Australia to join the Tana Umaga coached French rugby union club Toulon.[77][78] In his controversial mid-season exit from the NRL, Williams cited salary cap concerns for his move.[77] In 2005 it had been suggested that the NRL's salary cap restrictions could prove problematic in trying to keep top-grade players in rugby league.[79] The Canterbury Bulldogs club officials and players were not notified of his departure until after Williams had already left for Europe using a Samoan passport.[80] Williams was eighteen months into a five-year contract with the Bulldogs, and the dispute was only resolved when Toulon paid a transfer fee of around £300,000 (A$750,000).[81][82][83] According to the Bulldogs CEO Todd Greenberg, Williams was "our best player [before he] walked out".[84] The circumstances in which he left the Bulldogs created a media debate in Australia and New Zealand, and Williams was the subject of considerable criticism for a departure that was described as the greatest act of treachery in the game's history.[85]

Williams's highest honour with Toulon was finishing runner-up in the 2009–10 European Challenge Cup. On 6 June 2009 he played for the Barbarians in a tour match against Australia.[86] His contract with Toulon ended in June 2010; in the same year Toulon reportedly tabled a three-year, $6 million offer to Williams, while the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) came up with a $550,000 per year deal. He was also offered the chance to play for France at the 2011 World Cup.[32] Williams rejected Toulon's offer, reportedly the largest in rugby union history, and opted to sign with the NZRU in a bid to play for the All Blacks.[87] He then chose to play with Canterbury in the ITM Cup and the Crusaders in the Super Rugby competition.[88]

On 3 September, Williams made his Canterbury debut against Bay of Plenty after previously playing for the Belfast Rugby Football Club in the CBS Canterbury Cup.[89] He was named in the reserves and eighteen minutes into the game replaced second five-eight Ryan Crotty. Williams scored his first try in Canterbury's ITM Cup loss to Taranaki; he followed up with tries against Wellington, Otago and Counties Manukau. On 9 October, Canterbury became the new holder of the Ranfurly Shield,[90] and on 5 November they were crowned ITM Cup Champions after defeating Waikato 33–13. On 17 October, Williams was named in the All Blacks squad to tour Hong Kong and the Northern Hemisphere.[91] This would make him only the fourth person to have played for the All Blacks before having played any Super Rugby, since Super Rugby exists.[92]

He made his highly anticipated New Zealand debut at Twickenham against England on 6 November. He started at outside centre and combined with Ma'a Nonu to form the heaviest ever All Black midfield partnership at 212 kilograms (467 lb).[93][94] In playing for the All Blacks he became the first person since Karl Ifwersen, in the 1920s, to represent New Zealand in rugby union after first playing for New Zealand in rugby league.[95] On 13 November, in his second game for the All Blacks, Williams was awarded the man-of-the-match for his performance against Scotland.[96][97]

On 4 March, Williams made his 2011 Super Rugby debut for the Crusaders against the Waratahs, scoring a try and setting up another.[98] A week later he scored his second try against the ACT Brumbies.[99] On 27 March he returned to Twickenham to play against the Sharks in the first Super Rugby match played outside of New Zealand, Australia or South Africa.[100] On 9 April, in his fifth game for the Crusaders, Williams scored his third try.[101] On 23 April, Williams, playing off the reserves bench against the Highlanders, experienced his first rugby defeat since his All Black debut more than five months earlier.[102] A week later he scored his fourth try while playing against the Western Force.[103] On 7 May, Williams played his first rugby match in South Africa, in the Crusaders' victory over the Stormers at Newlands Stadium.[104] On 29 May he played against the Queensland Reds in a match which set a new attendance record for an Australian Super Rugby game, with 48,301 fans at Suncorp Stadium.[105] On 25 June he scored his fifth try while playing against the Sharks in the first finals week of the Super Rugby competition.[106] A week later, against the Stormers in Cape Town, he was part of the Crusaders team that became the first side since 1999 to win a Super Rugby semi-final outside their home country.[107] On 9 July, Williams was part of the Crusaders team which lost to the Reds in the grand final, held at Suncorp Stadium before an Australian provincial attendance record crowd of 52,113.[108] He ended the Super Rugby season with the most off-loads, was second to Quade Cooper for line-break assists, was in the top ten for try assists and was 13th overall for run metres—no other centre came close to Williams's off-load and line-break assist figures.[109][110] During his time in Christchurch, Williams was present when both the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes struck.[111]

On 30 July, Williams played his first home test match during the second game of the 2011 Tri Nations Series.[112] On 9 September he played in the opening match of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.[113] A week later he scored his first test rugby tries during New Zealand's second game, in which he played on the right wing. The match was also the first time he had played outside the centres since playing in a handful of games on the wing and in the back row for Toulon.[114][115] He scored his third try of the tournament against France, in his second consecutive game playing on the wing.[116] On 2 October, Williams scored in his third consecutive match, whilst playing against Canada.[117] New Zealand went on to win the tournament, with Williams amassing a Rugby World Cup record of three tries as a substitute player.[118]

On 31 October it was announced that Williams would join the Chiefs for the 2012 Super Rugby season. His new contract allowed a "limited number" of professional boxing bouts.[119]

On 25 February, Williams made his 2012 Super Rugby debut for the Chiefs against the Highlanders, In early March he was named as the NZRU's Teen Rugby Ambassador.[120] On 14 April, Williams scored his first try for the Chiefs while playing against the Cheetahs.[121] On 13 May he scored his second try in the Chiefs' first loss since their club record of nine consecutive wins.[122][123] On 2 June he scored his third try while playing against the Blues.[124] During the mid-year rugby test series, Williams played in all three of New Zealand's matches against Ireland, scoring two tries in the last game of the series. On 6 July he scored his fourth try for the Chiefs—this time against his former club, the Crusaders.[125] On 4 August, Williams played in the Chiefs' 37–6 victory against the Sharks in the Super Rugby final, scoring the last try of the match then celebrating by leaping into the home crowd.[126] With this victory, Williams became only the fourth person, after Peter Ryan, Brad Thorn and Will Chambers, to have won both an NRL and Super Rugby title.[127] He also ended the season with the most off-loads (for a second consecutive year),[128] most tackle busts, most line-breaks[129] and most turnovers gained.[130] He was also awarded the Chiefs' players' player award.[131]

On 18 August, Williams played for the All Blacks in the first match of the inaugural Rugby Championship.[132] The following week, he ended his two-year tenure in New Zealand rugby with a man-of-the-match performance in New Zealand's Bledisloe Cup winning 22–0 victory over Australia.[133]

On 9 July 2012, Williams announced he would be playing for the Panasonic Wild Knights in the Japanese Top League during the 2012–13 season—with the allowance to have one boxing fight during the season—before returning to rugby league.[134] The Panasonic deal was thought to be the largest one-season contract in rugby union history.[135] He was also expected to be heavily involved in the promotion of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, the country being the main host of the event.[136] On 9 September, a week after sitting out the Top League season opener to be given time to adjust after coming off recent All Blacks duties,[137] Williams made his debut for Panasonic against NTT Communications Shining Arcs.[138] On 22 September he scored his first try for Panasonic, while playing against Toshiba Brave Lupus.[139] On 27 October, Williams scored his second try during Panasonic's eighth round victory over the Kintetsu Liners;[140] however, the match would be his final game of the season after sustaining an injury when he landed awkwardly on his shoulder following a tackle.[141]

On 20 December 2013 it was announced that Williams would return to rugby union with the Chiefs on a two-year deal starting in 2015. He also aimed to represent New Zealand in the 2015 Rugby World Cup and in rugby sevens at the 2016 Summer Olympics.[142] On 15 June 2014, Williams signed a two-year deal, starting in 2015, to play in the ITM Cup with Counties Manukau—reuniting with his former Toulon coach Tana Umaga.[143] However, on 8 October 2014 he started his contract with Counties a year early when he made his debut for the club against Auckland, only twelve days after his last game for the Roosters.[144][145] He played the following game, which was also his club's final game of the season.[146]

On 20 October, Williams was named in the All Blacks' squad to tour the US and UK in November.[147] On 1 November, he made his return to international rugby against the United States, scoring twice in a man-of-the-match performance.[148] He went on to play in every other game of the tour.[149]

On 14 February, Williams marked his 2015 Super Rugby return to the Chiefs with a victory over the Blues in the first round.[150] Two weeks later, he scored his first try of the season against his former club, the Crusaders.[151] On 13 June, after being sidelined for a month with a back injury, Williams returned in the final round of the regular season.[152] The following week, Williams was part of the Chiefs' team that lost to the Highlanders in the quarter-finals.[153] Despite having played only ten of the sixteen regular season games, Williams had the second most offloads, and his nine line-break assists were the highest of any player with ten matches or less.[154]

On 8 July, Williams played in New Zealand's first test of the year, in a historic match against Samoa.[155] The following week he teamed up with Ma'a Nonu in the midfield against Argentina, in the opening match of the 2015 Rugby Championship.[156] On 8 August, Williams played in New Zealand's loss against Australia in the Rugby Championship decider; he also sustained an injury which prevented him from playing in the following weeks' Bledisloe Cup match.[157]

On 19 August, Williams was named in coach Gordon Tietjens' initial squad to represent New Zealand at the 2016 Summer Olympics in rugby sevens. Williams said he would commit to rugby sevens full-time following the Rugby World Cup and leading up to the Olympics, in an effort to make the final squad.[158][159]

On 30 August, Williams was named in New Zealand's 31-man squad for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.[160] On 20 September, he played off the bench in New Zealand's opening game victory against Argentina.[161] Four days later, Williams played in New Zealand's first-ever test match against Namibia.[162] On 2 October, Williams played in New Zealand's first-ever test match against Georgia.[163] The following week, he scored a try in New Zealand's final pool stage match against Tonga.[164] On 17 October, Williams was a part of New Zealand's record-setting quarter-final victory against France, before playing in the semi-final victory against South Africa.[165][166] He went on to play in New Zealand's victory against Australia in the final, before gifting his winner's medal to a 14-year old fan who had been tackled by a security guard during the lap of honour; however, he was presented with a second medal at the World Rugby Awards the following day.[167][168] His performance during the tournament, along with those of his midfield partners, was praised by coach Steve Hansen: "Not only have we lost Ma'a and Conrad we've also lost Sonny. They were the three guys that set the World Cup on fire and allowed us to have a one, two, three punch."[169]

On 11 January, Williams began training with the All Blacks Sevens team.[170] However, his introduction to the sport and national team began at the 2015 Dubai Sevens, as a guest of the tournament, where he also witnessed the debut of his sister, Niall, for the New Zealand women's team.[171] His inclusion in the international sevens arena has been "Touted as the biggest gain from the 15-a-side ranks".[172] On 25 January, Williams was named in the squad for the 2016 Wellington Sevens.[173] On 30 January, he marked his international debut against Russia, scoring a try with his first touch of the ball.[174] He went on to play in the remainder of New Zealand's pool matches.[175] The following day, Williams played in the quarter-final against Kenya, scored a try in the semi-final against England and played in the final's victory against South Africa.[176][177][178] After Wellington, he played in the following 2016 Sydney Sevens, including the victory against Australia in the final.[179] He was rested for the subsequent 2016 Las Vegas Sevens and was then ruled out of the 2016 Canada Sevens due to a swollen knee.[180][181] Williams returned from injury against France in the 2016 Hong Kong Sevens and scored a try in the final pool stage game against Samoa.[182][183] He went on to play in the quarter-final against Wales, the semi-final against South Africa and the loss against Fiji in the final.[184][185][186] The following week he played in the 2016 Singapore Sevens, losing to Samoa in the second-tier Plate final.[187] He went on to play in the 2016 Paris Sevens; however, his tournament was cut short by a knee injury.[188] The following week he played in the 2016 London Sevens, the final tournament of the World Series, scoring a try against Russia.[189] His tournament was again cut short, by an ankle injury early in the quarter-final loss to the United States, with New Zealand finishing the World Series in third place.[190]

On 1 June, Williams announced he had signed a three-year deal (his longest commitment since 2008) to stay with New Zealand rugby until the 2019 Rugby World Cup and would be joining the Blues in 2017, linking with coach Tana Umaga for the third time in his rugby career.[191]

On 3 July, Williams was selected to represent New Zealand in the men's rugby sevens at the 2016 Summer Olympics. His sister, Niall, was also selected to represent New Zealand in the women's tournament.[192] On 9 August, in New Zealand's first game of the tournament, against Japan, Williams partially ruptured his Achilles tendon early in the second half. The injury ended Williams' Olympic campaign; New Zealand eventually finished in fifth place.

In 2017 Williams was part of the Blues super rugby squad. Coming back from injury, his first game for the Blues was in April against the Highlanders, a game where he made headlines for taping over the BNZ logo on his jersey.[193] After a patchy return from injury, Williams looked back in form when the Blues drew with the Chiefs on a rainy Auckland evening.[194] Williams delivered a man of the match performance to help the Blues defeat the British and Irish Lions, 22–16.[195] With time running out and the Lions in the lead, Williams gave an offload to Ihaia West to score the match-winning try.

Williams returned to the All Blacks against Samoa at Eden Park in a solid performance, where he scored a try in a 78–0 win.[196] A week later, he started at inside centre for the All Blacks in their victory against the British and Irish Lions in the first test. However, a week later in the second test, Williams became the first All Black to be sent off in 50 years after Colin Meads was sent off in 1967, and was also the first ever to be sent off in New Zealand, for shoulder charging Anthony Watson to the head.[197] The All Blacks went on to lose the test 24–21. After serving his four-match suspension for his red card, Williams returned for the first Bledisloe Cup match of the year, where he scored a try in the All Blacks' record 54–34 victory.[198] Williams started in all New Zealand's Rugby Championship matches, with the All Blacks winning all six, including a 57–0 victory over South Africa in Auckland.

Williams finished the year by starting for the All Blacks three times on the end-of-year tour. In all, Williams played in 13 tests in 2017.

After missing a large portion of the 2018 Super Rugby season due to injury, Williams made a return for New Zealand during the 2018 Rugby Championship, having previously played only one test during the year. He went on to play his 50th test for New Zealand, against Australia, during a 37–20 win.[199] Although Williams reached the milestone, he only played one test, against England, during the end-of-season tour due to his continued injury problems.

On 28 August, All Blacks Head Coach, Steve Hansen named Williams as one of 31 players in New Zealand's squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which was Williams' third World Cup. [200] Williams joined teammates, Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read in the group of All Blacks to attend three World Cups.

Although this was Williams' third World Cup, he lost his place as a regular starter to Chiefs midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown, being used as a replacement for a pool stage test against eventual Champions, South Africa, as well as two of the playoff matches, against Ireland and England. After New Zealand lost to England 7–19, Williams made a start in his final test for New Zealand in the Bronze Final, a 40–17 win over Wales, which saw the All Blacks claim third place. Williams was one of five players to finish his international career for New Zealand that day, with Matt Todd, Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty and Captain, Kieran Read, all retiring that day, alongside Williams.[201]

On 27 May 2009, Williams made his debut as a professional boxer on the undercard of close friend Anthony Mundine,[202] defeating Garry Gurr with a technical knockout (TKO) in the second round in Brisbane.[203] On 30 June 2010 he defeated Ryan Hogan in a bout that ended by TKO after only two minutes and 35 seconds. Williams described the preparation for the fight as "good off-season training" for his imminent debut for the Canterbury rugby team.[204]

On 29 January 2011, Williams fought in his third professional match against Australian Scott Lewis at the Gold Coast Convention Centre, in his first fight as the main event.[205] Coincidentally, Lewis's trainer, Terry Devlin, named his youngest son after Williams—whom he called a "superb athlete".[206] Williams was initially scheduled to fight Lewis on 29 January at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre; however, the bout was moved to the Gold Coast to cross-promote Williams's Super Rugby team, the Crusaders, and their pre-season game against the Queensland Reds.[207] Due to the 2010–2011 Queensland floods occurring at the same time as Williams's preparation for his bout against Lewis, as well as his chief sparring partner, Alex Leapai, being stranded by the flooding in Gatton, Williams donated 200 tickets for the fight to flood victims.[208] Williams won the six-round bout against Lewis by unanimous points decision: he was scored favourably 60–55, 60–55 and 60–54 by the three judges. A fan paid $3,890 for his autographed gloves from the bout, with the money going towards the Queensland flood relief fund.[209]

On 5 June 2011, Williams had his fourth fight when the Crusaders had a bye week. The fight, the second of three allowed under his agreement with the NZRU, took place at Trusts Stadium, West Auckland, against Tongan Alipate Liava'a.[210] Williams won the bout by unanimous points decision: the fight scored 60–54 in his favour by all three judges.[211] The event was promoted as a Christchurch earthquake charity fight dubbed The Clash For Canterbury.[212] The fight became one of the single largest fundraisers for the 2011 Christchurch earthquake appeal when Sky donated its profits from the pay-per-view sales of the fight, and Williams made a $NZ100,000 donation from his share of TV sales—described as "one of the biggest individual donations by an athlete to a disaster appeal."[213][214][215]

On 8 February 2012, Williams was supposed to fight Richard Tutaki for the vacant New Zealand Professional Boxing Association (NZPBA) Heavyweight Championship title at Claudelands Arena in Hamilton, after Shane Cameron vacated it to move down to the cruiserweight division.[216][217] However, it was later revealed that Tutaki was facing serious criminal charges; so he was subsequently dropped from the fight card.[218] Williams's replacement opponent was then announced to be Auckland-based American Clarence Tillman III.[219][220] The fight was dubbed the Battle for the Belt.[221] Williams went on to claim the title belt by technical knockout after a left hook and a series of further blows on Tillman forced referee Lance Revill to stop the fight in the first round.[222] Following the bout, Williams rejected an offer to join the boxing stable of fight promoter Don King.[223]

On 24 November 2012, during the Japanese Top League's November break, Williams was due to fight South African former heavyweight contender Francois Botha at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre.[224][225] However, the bout was postponed to 8 February 2013 after Williams required surgery for a right pectoral muscle injury sustained while playing for Panasonic on 27 October.[141] The fight was for the vacant WBA International Heavyweight title. The event also marked the boxing debut of Williams's close friend and fellow rugby player, Quade Cooper, on the undercard.[226] After dominating most rounds but on the verge of being knocked out in the last round, Williams went on to win the bout by unanimous points decision, with the judges scoring 98–94, 97–91 and 97–91 in his favour.[227] However, the victory was marred by controversy because at late notice (and unbeknownst to most people) the fight was shortened to ten rounds, instead of the scheduled twelve. Australian National Boxing Federation committee member John Hogg later stated that the decision to cut the bout short was made just before the fight started, with the approval of officials and both Williams's and Botha's camps; however, Botha was not informed of the change by his own camp.[228]

In October 2013, Williams revealed he would not fight again for at least another three years due to a lack of time as he pursued his footballing goals and commitments.[229] This led to him being stripped of his two boxing titles in mid-December 2013.[230]

On 31 January 2015, Williams prematurely returned to the ring when he fought American Chauncy Welliver at Allphones Arena in Sydney. Coincidentally, in 2012, during his stint playing rugby for Panasonic in Japan, Williams was ringside when Welliver fought Kyotaro Fujimoto.[231] Included on Williams's undercards were fellow footballers Paul Gallen, Liam Messam and Willis Meehan. The event marked the inaugural Footy Show Fight Night[232] and was broadcast, in a rare occurrence, live on free-to-air television channel GEM.[233][234] Williams won the bout by unanimous points decision, with the judges scoring 80–72, 80–72 and 79–73 in his favour and Welliver praising his performance and potential.[235]

On 26 June 2021, in his first professional bout in over six years, Williams defeated Waikato Falefehi in a unanimous points decision 57–56, at the Townsville Entertainment Centre in Queensland, Australia. Williams was almost stunned after being knocked down with an eight count in the second round of the fight.[236][237]

On 23 March 2022, Williams defeated former professional Australian rules footballer Barry Hall at Aware Super Theatre in Sydney via technical knockout (TKO) in the first round.

Williams lost to Mark Hunt in the fourth round, of an eight-round heavyweight bout on November 5, 2022, at Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney, Australia.[citation needed]

On 5 May 2014, Williams became a global ambassador for sportswear manufacturer Adidas—becoming the first player in rugby league history to be signed on such a deal.[238] He is also the face of clothing label Just Jeans[239] and a brand ambassador for BMW.[240] He has also had endorsement deals with other brands, including Powerade[241] and Rebel Sport.[242] He was ranked 41st in SportsPro magazine's 50 most marketable athletes for 2014.[243][244]

In December 2015, Williams served as an ambassador for UNICEF, visiting Lebanon with Mike McRoberts in an effort to raise awareness of the plight of Syrian refugee children.[245]

Williams's younger sister, Niall, is a New Zealand former international touch football captain and current New Zealand rugby sevens player.[9] His older brother John Arthur Williams has played rugby league in both the New South Wales Cup and Queensland Cup, as well as for the Phelan Shield premiers, the New Lynn Stags, in the 2011 Auckland Rugby League season.[246] Williams is the cousin of brothers Henry and Marcus Perenara, who are former professional rugby league players.[247] He is also the cousin of rugby player and Chiefs teammate Tim Nanai-Williams and Cardiff Blues player Nick Williams.[248] Williams is also distantly related to current All Blacks teammate TJ Perenara. Williams is often referred to as "SBW"[249]

Williams converted to Islam in 2009, while in France playing for Toulon.[10] He is the first Muslim to play for the All Blacks[250] and has spoken extensively about his faith.[251][252] In 2018, he performed an Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca, and travelled to Medina as well.[253] He is a dual citizen of New Zealand and Samoa.[254] In 2019, he made a "tearful message of condolence" for the victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings[255] and denounced the treatment of the Uyghurs in China: "It's a sad time when we choose economic benefits over humanity."[256][257] Williams is married to Alana Raffie (whom he met at a shop) and has four children.[258]

Pld = Games Played, W = Games Won, D = Games Drawn, L = Games Lost, Tri = Tries Scored, Con = Conversions, Pen = Penalties, DG = Drop Goals, Pts = Points Scored

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Answer # 2 #

Sonny William Williams (born 3 August 1985) is a New Zealand heavyweight boxer, and a former professional rugby league and rugby union player. He is only the second person to represent New Zealand in rugby union after first playing for the country in rugby league, and is one of only 21 players to have won the Rugby World Cup twice.[4]

Williams began his career in rugby league, and has played as a second-row forward over eight seasons in three spells in the National Rugby League (NRL), with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and Sydney Roosters. He has won 12 caps for New Zealand (the Kiwis) and won the RLIF Awards for Rookie of the Year in 2004 and International Player of the Year in 2013. In 2020 he played for the Toronto Wolfpack in Super League, before moving to Sydney Roosters the same year.

He first moved to rugby union in 2010 and played mainly as a centre for Toulon in France, Canterbury, Counties Manukau, the Crusaders, Chiefs and Blues in New Zealand and Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan. He won 58 caps for New Zealand (the All Blacks), and was part of the teams that won the 2011 and 2015 World Cups. He also played rugby sevens for New Zealand, competing in the 2015–16 World Rugby Sevens Series and the 2016 Olympics. He retired from both rugby codes in March 2021.

Williams has boxed professionally ten times. He was the New Zealand Professional Boxing Association (NZPBA) Heavyweight Champion and World Boxing Association (WBA) International Heavyweight Champion, but was stripped of these titles after failing to respond to challenges.[5]

Williams was born on 3 August 1985, in Auckland, New Zealand, the son of a Samoan father, Ioane ("John") Williams and mother, Lee Woolsey who is half-New Zealander and half-Australian.[6][7] He has an older brother, John Arthur, and younger twin sisters, Niall and Denise.[8][9]

Williams grew up in a working-class family in a state house in the Auckland suburb of Mount Albert.[9] In describing his struggling family background, Williams later said that the "driving factor" in his pursuit of playing professional rugby league was to "get my mum a house."[10] He attended Owairaka School,[11] Wesley Intermediate and Mount Albert Grammar School. As a child he has been described as being a "small, skinny white kid"[12] who was "painfully shy", as well as "a freakish sporting talent, a competitive sprinter, a champion high jumper and cross country runner and the kid who played footy in teams a couple of age divisions above, to make things fairer."[9] Despite being tipped to have a promising future in athletics, Williams abandoned it when he was about twelve years old.[8] Though his father was an accomplished rugby league player, Williams has said it was his mother who introduced him to the game.[13]

Williams was a Marist Saints junior when he was spotted playing in Auckland by Bulldogs talent scout John Ackland.[14] In 2002 he was offered a contract and moved to Sydney (as the youngest player to ever sign with an NRL club) to play in the Bulldogs' junior grades.[15][16][17] While training professionally, Williams worked full-time as a labourer.[18] He advanced up the ranks quickly: becoming a starting player in the forward pack for the Bulldogs' Jersey Flegg Cup side in his first year. The following year Williams cemented a starting spot in the Premier League side.[19] He also represented NSW as a junior; however, in 2013, when the NSW team investigated whether he could represent them in State of Origin, it was found that he only met two of the five necessary qualifications.[20]

In 2004, when eighteen years old, Williams made his NRL debut for Canterbury-Bankstown against the Parramatta Eels at Telstra Stadium. In 2004, he was selected by New Zealand after only a handful of NRL games and on 23 April made his debut for the Kiwis as their youngest-ever Test player in the 2004 ANZAC Test against Australia.[15] He had previously played for the Junior Kiwis.[8] Williams played fifteen NRL matches during the season, establishing himself in the Canterbury squad. He experienced premiership success in his debut season and became the youngest person to play for Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in a grand final when playing off the bench in the Bulldogs' 16–13 victory over the Sydney Roosters in the 2004 NRL Grand Final.[15] Williams capped a successful debut season by receiving the 2004 RLIF Awards' International Newcomer of the Year Award and being named in Rugby League World magazine's 2004 World XIII.[21] As 2004 NRL premiers, Canterbury-Bankstown faced Super League IX champions, the Leeds Rhinos, in the 2005 World Club Challenge, which Canterbury lost 32–39.

Williams's contract was due to expire in 2005, and he received several offers to lure him away from the Bulldogs. The largest offer was rumoured to be about $3 million from UK Super League club St Helens.[22] Williams decided to stay with Canterbury-Bankstown and signed on for a further two years. St Helens chairman Eamonn McManus later said the club had not made an offer to him.[23]

Williams had a shortened 2005 season after sustaining a severe knee injury and several minor injuries. He played five games throughout the year and subsequently missed several internationals for New Zealand. Williams expressed his frustration, stating "You've got to be pretty strong mentally when you have injuries, and I've had a few."[24] Williams later adamantly dismissed claims he was injury prone.[25]

Williams stayed relatively injury-free throughout the 2006 season, playing in 21 matches and scoring eight tries. The Canterbury-Bankstown club were beaten in the preliminary final by eventual premiers the Brisbane Broncos. However, off-season surgery forced Williams to miss the Tri-Nations for New Zealand for the second consecutive year.[26]

In the first game of the 2007 season, Williams was sent off and subsequently suspended for two weeks for a high tackle on Andrew Johns. He thus became the first player of the 21st century to be sent off in a first-round game.[27] Speculation surrounding Williams's playing future ended when he re-signed with Canterbury on 9 March 2007 for a five-year contract worth over $2.5 million, extending through to the 2012 season.[28] Williams was selected to play for the Kiwis as a second-row forward in the 2007 Anzac Test loss against Australia.[29] He went on to play in 21 matches for the Bulldogs; scored fourteen tries and topped the competition, for the second successive year, for most offloads.[30] However, Williams broke his forearm in a tackle on Nathan Hindmarsh during the semi-final against the Parramatta Eels. His team lost the match, and Williams was again ruled out from representing New Zealand in the post-season 2007 Great Britain Tour. He was nominated for 'Second-Rower of the Year' at the 2007 Dally M Awards; however, Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles second-rower Anthony Watmough won the award.

On 13 November 2012, Williams confirmed he would be returning to rugby league after signing a one-year deal with the Sydney Roosters for the 2013 NRL season.[31] His return was undertaken to honour a handshake agreement with Roosters chairman Nick Politis.[32] It took over a month before his contract was officially approved and registered by the Australian Rugby League Commission; he was "frogmarched into League Central to be grilled as part of the probe" into his contract.[33][34] Williams's return coincided with the banning of the shoulder charge, a manoeuvre of which he has been described as the best and most famous exponent.[35][36][37][38]

On 7 March, Williams made his debut for the Roosters before a record first round crowd and television audience;[39] he also scored his first try for his new club.[40] On 1 April, Williams scored his second try in the Roosters' 50–0 win over the Eels—their biggest ever victory against Parramatta and the first time they had kept their opposition scoreless in consecutive matches since 1999.[41] On 12 April he scored twice in his first encounter against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, with the 38–0 result being the Roosters' largest ever victory over Canterbury.[42] On 5 May he scored his fifth try against the Panthers.[43] On 16 June, Williams scored his sixth try against the Warriors.[44] On 28 July, Williams scored his seventh try against Newcastle, but he was given a two match suspension for a grade three careless high tackle on former Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs teammate Willie Mason.[45][46] On 19 August, after returning from suspension, Williams scored his eighth try against the Wests Tigers.[47] On 6 September he was named man-of-the-match as the Roosters claimed the NRL minor premiership and J. J. Giltinan Shield against the Rabbitohs in front of a record NRL regular season crowd of 59,708.[48][49] On 6 October, Williams played in the grand final against Manly, with the Roosters claiming the premiership 26–18. Williams later said of the victory "I didn't cry, but it was the first time I've come close to crying."[50] Subsequently, he was awarded the Jack Gibson Medal as the Roosters' player of the year.[51][52] Several days later he announced that he would continue playing for the Roosters into 2014[53]—the first time he had played consecutive seasons for one team since leaving Toulon in 2010.[54]

Following the NRL season, Williams announced himself unavailable for international selection. As a result, New Zealand named a 24-man squad without him; however, after reversing his self-exclusion he was added to the squad at the expense of Tohu Harris.[55] On 27 October, Williams played in his first Test game in over five years—and his first victory for the Kiwis—while playing against Samoa.[56][57] In his second game of the tournament, Williams scored three tries against Papua New Guinea, in a man-of-the-match performance.[58] In the week leading up to the final, Williams was awarded the Rugby League International Federation's 'International Player of the Year' award for 2013; he cried when his teammates performed an impromptu haka for him at the award ceremony.[59][60] He went on to play in the World Cup final, where New Zealand were defeated by Australia.

On 6 March 2014, Williams and the Roosters began the 2014 NRL season with a loss to rivals the Rabbitohs; he was suspended for three games as a result of a shoulder charge on George Burgess in the final minute of the game.[61] He returned in round five in a loss to the Bulldogs.[62] On 12 April, Williams played his 100th NRL game against Parramatta—the same club he marked his debut against with the Bulldogs.[63] On 23 May he scored twice against the Bulldogs to register his first points of the season.[64] On 8 June, Williams scored his third try against the Melbourne Storm.[65] Following the game against Newcastle, he revealed he had suffered a fractured thumb and would be sidelined for up to four weeks.[66] During his recovery he was a guest host on the Nine Network's Footy Show[67] and was part of a high-profile delegation to launch the NRL's Pacific Strategy in Samoa.[68][69][70] After missing three games, Williams returned against the Warriors.[71] On 26 September, Williams's two-year tenure in the NRL ended following the minor premiers' preliminary final loss to the Rabbitohs. However, Williams did not rule out a return to the Roosters in the future.[72]

In February 2019, Williams was linked with a move to Toronto Wolfpack, the first Canadian professional club to play in the British rugby league system.[73] After their promotion to the Super League, Williams agreed to switch back to rugby league and signed for the club on 7 November.[74] The two-year deal was reportedly worth up to $10 million.

Following the Wolfpack announcing their withdrawal due to financial constraints which were enforced by the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, rumours had circled around the NRL that the league would loosen the contracting rules to allow for clubs to bring some of these team-less players in limbo to come back & play in the NRL if a club would sign them.

Subsequently, the injury-ravaged Sydney Roosters, who at one stage were missing 11 of their top 17. The superstar forward was paid $150,000 to play the last four rounds of the competition and finals in their attempt to complete their premiership hat-trick.[75] Williams' Toronto teammate, Ricky Leutele signed with rivals Melbourne Storm for the remainder of 2020. Williams returned against the Canberra Raiders in round 17 off the interchange bench playing 13 minutes, Williams made four runs for 23 metres, one offload and 5 tackles, in his team's 18–6 victory.

His final game would be the loss in the home semi-final against Canberra at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Williams announced his retirement via Instagram in early 2021, days after former Crusaders and dual World Cup-winning All Black teammate Dan Carter.

In July 2008, after linking up with new manager Khoder Nasser,[76] Williams left Australia to join the Tana Umaga coached French rugby union club Toulon.[77][78] In his controversial mid-season exit from the NRL, Williams cited salary cap concerns for his move.[77] In 2005 it had been suggested that the NRL's salary cap restrictions could prove problematic in trying to keep top-grade players in rugby league.[79] The Canterbury Bulldogs club officials and players were not notified of his departure until after Williams had already left for Europe using a Samoan passport.[80] Williams was eighteen months into a five-year contract with the Bulldogs, and the dispute was only resolved when Toulon paid a transfer fee of around £300,000 (A$750,000).[81][82][83] According to the Bulldogs CEO Todd Greenberg, Williams was "our best player [before he] walked out".[84] The circumstances in which he left the Bulldogs created a media debate in Australia and New Zealand, and Williams was the subject of considerable criticism for a departure that was described as the greatest act of treachery in the game's history.[85]

Williams's highest honour with Toulon was finishing runner-up in the 2009–10 European Challenge Cup. On 6 June 2009 he played for the Barbarians in a tour match against Australia.[86] His contract with Toulon ended in June 2010; in the same year Toulon reportedly tabled a three-year, $6 million offer to Williams, while the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) came up with a $550,000 per year deal. He was also offered the chance to play for France at the 2011 World Cup.[32] Williams rejected Toulon's offer, reportedly the largest in rugby union history, and opted to sign with the NZRU in a bid to play for the All Blacks.[87] He then chose to play with Canterbury in the ITM Cup and the Crusaders in the Super Rugby competition.[88]

On 3 September, Williams made his Canterbury debut against Bay of Plenty after previously playing for the Belfast Rugby Football Club in the CBS Canterbury Cup.[89] He was named in the reserves and eighteen minutes into the game replaced second five-eight Ryan Crotty. Williams scored his first try in Canterbury's ITM Cup loss to Taranaki; he followed up with tries against Wellington, Otago and Counties Manukau. On 9 October, Canterbury became the new holder of the Ranfurly Shield,[90] and on 5 November they were crowned ITM Cup Champions after defeating Waikato 33–13. On 17 October, Williams was named in the All Blacks squad to tour Hong Kong and the Northern Hemisphere.[91] This would make him only the fourth person to have played for the All Blacks before having played any Super Rugby, since Super Rugby exists.[92]

He made his highly anticipated New Zealand debut at Twickenham against England on 6 November. He started at outside centre and combined with Ma'a Nonu to form the heaviest ever All Black midfield partnership at 212 kilograms (467 lb).[93][94] In playing for the All Blacks he became the first person since Karl Ifwersen, in the 1920s, to represent New Zealand in rugby union after first playing for New Zealand in rugby league.[95] On 13 November, in his second game for the All Blacks, Williams was awarded the man-of-the-match for his performance against Scotland.[96][97]

On 4 March, Williams made his 2011 Super Rugby debut for the Crusaders against the Waratahs, scoring a try and setting up another.[98] A week later he scored his second try against the ACT Brumbies.[99] On 27 March he returned to Twickenham to play against the Sharks in the first Super Rugby match played outside of New Zealand, Australia or South Africa.[100] On 9 April, in his fifth game for the Crusaders, Williams scored his third try.[101] On 23 April, Williams, playing off the reserves bench against the Highlanders, experienced his first rugby defeat since his All Black debut more than five months earlier.[102] A week later he scored his fourth try while playing against the Western Force.[103] On 7 May, Williams played his first rugby match in South Africa, in the Crusaders' victory over the Stormers at Newlands Stadium.[104] On 29 May he played against the Queensland Reds in a match which set a new attendance record for an Australian Super Rugby game, with 48,301 fans at Suncorp Stadium.[105] On 25 June he scored his fifth try while playing against the Sharks in the first finals week of the Super Rugby competition.[106] A week later, against the Stormers in Cape Town, he was part of the Crusaders team that became the first side since 1999 to win a Super Rugby semi-final outside their home country.[107] On 9 July, Williams was part of the Crusaders team which lost to the Reds in the grand final, held at Suncorp Stadium before an Australian provincial attendance record crowd of 52,113.[108] He ended the Super Rugby season with the most off-loads, was second to Quade Cooper for line-break assists, was in the top ten for try assists and was 13th overall for run metres—no other centre came close to Williams's off-load and line-break assist figures.[109][110] During his time in Christchurch, Williams was present when both the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes struck.[111]

On 30 July, Williams played his first home test match during the second game of the 2011 Tri Nations Series.[112] On 9 September he played in the opening match of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.[113] A week later he scored his first test rugby tries during New Zealand's second game, in which he played on the right wing. The match was also the first time he had played outside the centres since playing in a handful of games on the wing and in the back row for Toulon.[114][115] He scored his third try of the tournament against France, in his second consecutive game playing on the wing.[116] On 2 October, Williams scored in his third consecutive match, whilst playing against Canada.[117] New Zealand went on to win the tournament, with Williams amassing a Rugby World Cup record of three tries as a substitute player.[118]

On 31 October it was announced that Williams would join the Chiefs for the 2012 Super Rugby season. His new contract allowed a "limited number" of professional boxing bouts.[119]

On 25 February, Williams made his 2012 Super Rugby debut for the Chiefs against the Highlanders, In early March he was named as the NZRU's Teen Rugby Ambassador.[120] On 14 April, Williams scored his first try for the Chiefs while playing against the Cheetahs.[121] On 13 May he scored his second try in the Chiefs' first loss since their club record of nine consecutive wins.[122][123] On 2 June he scored his third try while playing against the Blues.[124] During the mid-year rugby test series, Williams played in all three of New Zealand's matches against Ireland, scoring two tries in the last game of the series. On 6 July he scored his fourth try for the Chiefs—this time against his former club, the Crusaders.[125] On 4 August, Williams played in the Chiefs' 37–6 victory against the Sharks in the Super Rugby final, scoring the last try of the match then celebrating by leaping into the home crowd.[126] With this victory, Williams became only the fourth person, after Peter Ryan, Brad Thorn and Will Chambers, to have won both an NRL and Super Rugby title.[127] He also ended the season with the most off-loads (for a second consecutive year),[128] most tackle busts, most line-breaks[129] and most turnovers gained.[130] He was also awarded the Chiefs' players' player award.[131]

On 18 August, Williams played for the All Blacks in the first match of the inaugural Rugby Championship.[132] The following week, he ended his two-year tenure in New Zealand rugby with a man-of-the-match performance in New Zealand's Bledisloe Cup winning 22–0 victory over Australia.[133]

On 9 July 2012, Williams announced he would be playing for the Panasonic Wild Knights in the Japanese Top League during the 2012–13 season—with the allowance to have one boxing fight during the season—before returning to rugby league.[134] The Panasonic deal was thought to be the largest one-season contract in rugby union history.[135] He was also expected to be heavily involved in the promotion of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, the country being the main host of the event.[136] On 9 September, a week after sitting out the Top League season opener to be given time to adjust after coming off recent All Blacks duties,[137] Williams made his debut for Panasonic against NTT Communications Shining Arcs.[138] On 22 September he scored his first try for Panasonic, while playing against Toshiba Brave Lupus.[139] On 27 October, Williams scored his second try during Panasonic's eighth round victory over the Kintetsu Liners;[140] however, the match would be his final game of the season after sustaining an injury when he landed awkwardly on his shoulder following a tackle.[141]

On 20 December 2013 it was announced that Williams would return to rugby union with the Chiefs on a two-year deal starting in 2015. He also aimed to represent New Zealand in the 2015 Rugby World Cup and in rugby sevens at the 2016 Summer Olympics.[142] On 15 June 2014, Williams signed a two-year deal, starting in 2015, to play in the ITM Cup with Counties Manukau—reuniting with his former Toulon coach Tana Umaga.[143] However, on 8 October 2014 he started his contract with Counties a year early when he made his debut for the club against Auckland, only twelve days after his last game for the Roosters.[144][145] He played the following game, which was also his club's final game of the season.[146]

On 20 October, Williams was named in the All Blacks' squad to tour the US and UK in November.[147] On 1 November, he made his return to international rugby against the United States, scoring twice in a man-of-the-match performance.[148] He went on to play in every other game of the tour.[149]

On 14 February, Williams marked his 2015 Super Rugby return to the Chiefs with a victory over the Blues in the first round.[150] Two weeks later, he scored his first try of the season against his former club, the Crusaders.[151] On 13 June, after being sidelined for a month with a back injury, Williams returned in the final round of the regular season.[152] The following week, Williams was part of the Chiefs' team that lost to the Highlanders in the quarter-finals.[153] Despite having played only ten of the sixteen regular season games, Williams had the second most offloads, and his nine line-break assists were the highest of any player with ten matches or less.[154]

On 8 July, Williams played in New Zealand's first test of the year, in a historic match against Samoa.[155] The following week he teamed up with Ma'a Nonu in the midfield against Argentina, in the opening match of the 2015 Rugby Championship.[156] On 8 August, Williams played in New Zealand's loss against Australia in the Rugby Championship decider; he also sustained an injury which prevented him from playing in the following weeks' Bledisloe Cup match.[157]

On 19 August, Williams was named in coach Gordon Tietjens' initial squad to represent New Zealand at the 2016 Summer Olympics in rugby sevens. Williams said he would commit to rugby sevens full-time following the Rugby World Cup and leading up to the Olympics, in an effort to make the final squad.[158][159]

On 30 August, Williams was named in New Zealand's 31-man squad for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.[160] On 20 September, he played off the bench in New Zealand's opening game victory against Argentina.[161] Four days later, Williams played in New Zealand's first-ever test match against Namibia.[162] On 2 October, Williams played in New Zealand's first-ever test match against Georgia.[163] The following week, he scored a try in New Zealand's final pool stage match against Tonga.[164] On 17 October, Williams was a part of New Zealand's record-setting quarter-final victory against France, before playing in the semi-final victory against South Africa.[165][166] He went on to play in New Zealand's victory against Australia in the final, before gifting his winner's medal to a 14-year old fan who had been tackled by a security guard during the lap of honour; however, he was presented with a second medal at the World Rugby Awards the following day.[167][168] His performance during the tournament, along with those of his midfield partners, was praised by coach Steve Hansen: "Not only have we lost Ma'a and Conrad we've also lost Sonny. They were the three guys that set the World Cup on fire and allowed us to have a one, two, three punch."[169]

On 11 January, Williams began training with the All Blacks Sevens team.[170] However, his introduction to the sport and national team began at the 2015 Dubai Sevens, as a guest of the tournament, where he also witnessed the debut of his sister, Niall, for the New Zealand women's team.[171] His inclusion in the international sevens arena has been "Touted as the biggest gain from the 15-a-side ranks".[172] On 25 January, Williams was named in the squad for the 2016 Wellington Sevens.[173] On 30 January, he marked his international debut against Russia, scoring a try with his first touch of the ball.[174] He went on to play in the remainder of New Zealand's pool matches.[175] The following day, Williams played in the quarter-final against Kenya, scored a try in the semi-final against England and played in the final's victory against South Africa.[176][177][178] After Wellington, he played in the following 2016 Sydney Sevens, including the victory against Australia in the final.[179] He was rested for the subsequent 2016 Las Vegas Sevens and was then ruled out of the 2016 Canada Sevens due to a swollen knee.[180][181] Williams returned from injury against France in the 2016 Hong Kong Sevens and scored a try in the final pool stage game against Samoa.[182][183] He went on to play in the quarter-final against Wales, the semi-final against South Africa and the loss against Fiji in the final.[184][185][186] The following week he played in the 2016 Singapore Sevens, losing to Samoa in the second-tier Plate final.[187] He went on to play in the 2016 Paris Sevens; however, his tournament was cut short by a knee injury.[188] The following week he played in the 2016 London Sevens, the final tournament of the World Series, scoring a try against Russia.[189] His tournament was again cut short, by an ankle injury early in the quarter-final loss to the United States, with New Zealand finishing the World Series in third place.[190]

On 1 June, Williams announced he had signed a three-year deal (his longest commitment since 2008) to stay with New Zealand rugby until the 2019 Rugby World Cup and would be joining the Blues in 2017, linking with coach Tana Umaga for the third time in his rugby career.[191]

On 3 July, Williams was selected to represent New Zealand in the men's rugby sevens at the 2016 Summer Olympics. His sister, Niall, was also selected to represent New Zealand in the women's tournament.[192] On 9 August, in New Zealand's first game of the tournament, against Japan, Williams partially ruptured his Achilles tendon early in the second half. The injury ended Williams' Olympic campaign; New Zealand eventually finished in fifth place.

In 2017 Williams was part of the Blues super rugby squad. Coming back from injury, his first game for the Blues was in April against the Highlanders, a game where he made headlines for taping over the BNZ logo on his jersey.[193] After a patchy return from injury, Williams looked back in form when the Blues drew with the Chiefs on a rainy Auckland evening.[194] Williams delivered a man of the match performance to help the Blues defeat the British and Irish Lions, 22–16.[195] With time running out and the Lions in the lead, Williams gave an offload to Ihaia West to score the match-winning try.

Williams returned to the All Blacks against Samoa at Eden Park in a solid performance, where he scored a try in a 78–0 win.[196] A week later, he started at inside centre for the All Blacks in their victory against the British and Irish Lions in the first test. However, a week later in the second test, Williams became the first All Black to be sent off in 50 years after Colin Meads was sent off in 1967, and was also the first ever to be sent off in New Zealand, for shoulder charging Anthony Watson to the head.[197] The All Blacks went on to lose the test 24–21. After serving his four-match suspension for his red card, Williams returned for the first Bledisloe Cup match of the year, where he scored a try in the All Blacks' record 54–34 victory.[198] Williams started in all New Zealand's Rugby Championship matches, with the All Blacks winning all six, including a 57–0 victory over South Africa in Auckland.

Williams finished the year by starting for the All Blacks three times on the end-of-year tour. In all, Williams played in 13 tests in 2017.

After missing a large portion of the 2018 Super Rugby season due to injury, Williams made a return for New Zealand during the 2018 Rugby Championship, having previously played only one test during the year. He went on to play his 50th test for New Zealand, against Australia, during a 37–20 win.[199] Although Williams reached the milestone, he only played one test, against England, during the end-of-season tour due to his continued injury problems.

On 28 August, All Blacks Head Coach, Steve Hansen named Williams as one of 31 players in New Zealand's squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which was Williams' third World Cup. [200] Williams joined teammates, Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read in the group of All Blacks to attend three World Cups.

Although this was Williams' third World Cup, he lost his place as a regular starter to Chiefs midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown, being used as a replacement for a pool stage test against eventual Champions, South Africa, as well as two of the playoff matches, against Ireland and England. After New Zealand lost to England 7–19, Williams made a start in his final test for New Zealand in the Bronze Final, a 40–17 win over Wales, which saw the All Blacks claim third place. Williams was one of five players to finish his international career for New Zealand that day, with Matt Todd, Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty and Captain, Kieran Read, all retiring that day, alongside Williams.[201]

On 27 May 2009, Williams made his debut as a professional boxer on the undercard of close friend Anthony Mundine,[202] defeating Garry Gurr with a technical knockout (TKO) in the second round in Brisbane.[203] On 30 June 2010 he defeated Ryan Hogan in a bout that ended by TKO after only two minutes and 35 seconds. Williams described the preparation for the fight as "good off-season training" for his imminent debut for the Canterbury rugby team.[204]

On 29 January 2011, Williams fought in his third professional match against Australian Scott Lewis at the Gold Coast Convention Centre, in his first fight as the main event.[205] Coincidentally, Lewis's trainer, Terry Devlin, named his youngest son after Williams—whom he called a "superb athlete".[206] Williams was initially scheduled to fight Lewis on 29 January at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre; however, the bout was moved to the Gold Coast to cross-promote Williams's Super Rugby team, the Crusaders, and their pre-season game against the Queensland Reds.[207] Due to the 2010–2011 Queensland floods occurring at the same time as Williams's preparation for his bout against Lewis, as well as his chief sparring partner, Alex Leapai, being stranded by the flooding in Gatton, Williams donated 200 tickets for the fight to flood victims.[208] Williams won the six-round bout against Lewis by unanimous points decision: he was scored favourably 60–55, 60–55 and 60–54 by the three judges. A fan paid $3,890 for his autographed gloves from the bout, with the money going towards the Queensland flood relief fund.[209]

On 5 June 2011, Williams had his fourth fight when the Crusaders had a bye week. The fight, the second of three allowed under his agreement with the NZRU, took place at Trusts Stadium, West Auckland, against Tongan Alipate Liava'a.[210] Williams won the bout by unanimous points decision: the fight scored 60–54 in his favour by all three judges.[211] The event was promoted as a Christchurch earthquake charity fight dubbed The Clash For Canterbury.[212] The fight became one of the single largest fundraisers for the 2011 Christchurch earthquake appeal when Sky donated its profits from the pay-per-view sales of the fight, and Williams made a $NZ100,000 donation from his share of TV sales—described as "one of the biggest individual donations by an athlete to a disaster appeal."[213][214][215]

On 8 February 2012, Williams was supposed to fight Richard Tutaki for the vacant New Zealand Professional Boxing Association (NZPBA) Heavyweight Championship title at Claudelands Arena in Hamilton, after Shane Cameron vacated it to move down to the cruiserweight division.[216][217] However, it was later revealed that Tutaki was facing serious criminal charges; so he was subsequently dropped from the fight card.[218] Williams's replacement opponent was then announced to be Auckland-based American Clarence Tillman III.[219][220] The fight was dubbed the Battle for the Belt.[221] Williams went on to claim the title belt by technical knockout after a left hook and a series of further blows on Tillman forced referee Lance Revill to stop the fight in the first round.[222] Following the bout, Williams rejected an offer to join the boxing stable of fight promoter Don King.[223]

On 24 November 2012, during the Japanese Top League's November break, Williams was due to fight South African former heavyweight contender Francois Botha at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre.[224][225] However, the bout was postponed to 8 February 2013 after Williams required surgery for a right pectoral muscle injury sustained while playing for Panasonic on 27 October.[141] The fight was for the vacant WBA International Heavyweight title. The event also marked the boxing debut of Williams's close friend and fellow rugby player, Quade Cooper, on the undercard.[226] After dominating most rounds but on the verge of being knocked out in the last round, Williams went on to win the bout by unanimous points decision, with the judges scoring 98–94, 97–91 and 97–91 in his favour.[227] However, the victory was marred by controversy because at late notice (and unbeknownst to most people) the fight was shortened to ten rounds, instead of the scheduled twelve. Australian National Boxing Federation committee member John Hogg later stated that the decision to cut the bout short was made just before the fight started, with the approval of officials and both Williams's and Botha's camps; however, Botha was not informed of the change by his own camp.[228]

In October 2013, Williams revealed he would not fight again for at least another three years due to a lack of time as he pursued his footballing goals and commitments.[229] This led to him being stripped of his two boxing titles in mid-December 2013.[230]

On 31 January 2015, Williams prematurely returned to the ring when he fought American Chauncy Welliver at Allphones Arena in Sydney. Coincidentally, in 2012, during his stint playing rugby for Panasonic in Japan, Williams was ringside when Welliver fought Kyotaro Fujimoto.[231] Included on Williams's undercards were fellow footballers Paul Gallen, Liam Messam and Willis Meehan. The event marked the inaugural Footy Show Fight Night[232] and was broadcast, in a rare occurrence, live on free-to-air television channel GEM.[233][234] Williams won the bout by unanimous points decision, with the judges scoring 80–72, 80–72 and 79–73 in his favour and Welliver praising his performance and potential.[235]

On 26 June 2021, in his first professional bout in over six years, Williams defeated Waikato Falefehi in a unanimous points decision 57–56, at the Townsville Entertainment Centre in Queensland, Australia. Williams was almost stunned after being knocked down with an eight count in the second round of the fight.[236][237]

On 23 March 2022, Williams defeated former professional Australian rules footballer Barry Hall at Aware Super Theatre in Sydney via technical knockout (TKO) in the first round.

Williams lost to Mark Hunt in the fourth round, of an eight-round heavyweight bout on November 5, 2022, at Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney, Australia.[citation needed]

On 5 May 2014, Williams became a global ambassador for sportswear manufacturer Adidas—becoming the first player in rugby league history to be signed on such a deal.[238] He is also the face of clothing label Just Jeans[239] and a brand ambassador for BMW.[240] He has also had endorsement deals with other brands, including Powerade[241] and Rebel Sport.[242] He was ranked 41st in SportsPro magazine's 50 most marketable athletes for 2014.[243][244]

In December 2015, Williams served as an ambassador for UNICEF, visiting Lebanon with Mike McRoberts in an effort to raise awareness of the plight of Syrian refugee children.[245]

Williams's younger sister, Niall, is a New Zealand former international touch football captain and current New Zealand rugby sevens player.[9] His older brother John Arthur Williams has played rugby league in both the New South Wales Cup and Queensland Cup, as well as for the Phelan Shield premiers, the New Lynn Stags, in the 2011 Auckland Rugby League season.[246] Williams is the cousin of brothers Henry and Marcus Perenara, who are former professional rugby league players.[247] He is also the cousin of rugby player and Chiefs teammate Tim Nanai-Williams and Cardiff Blues player Nick Williams.[248] Williams is also distantly related to current All Blacks teammate TJ Perenara. Williams is often referred to as "SBW"[249]

Williams converted to Islam in 2009, while in France playing for Toulon.[10] He is the first Muslim to play for the All Blacks[250] and has spoken extensively about his faith.[251][252] In 2018, he performed an Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca, and travelled to Medina as well.[253] He is a dual citizen of New Zealand and Samoa.[254] In 2019, he made a "tearful message of condolence" for the victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings[255] and denounced the treatment of the Uyghurs in China: "It's a sad time when we choose economic benefits over humanity."[256][257] Williams is married to Alana Raffie (whom he met at a shop) and has four children.[258]

Pld = Games Played, W = Games Won, D = Games Drawn, L = Games Lost, Tri = Tries Scored, Con = Conversions, Pen = Penalties, DG = Drop Goals, Pts = Points Scored

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Answer # 3 #

SBW looked impressive early with his jab providing plenty of problems for the 'Super Samoan', yet once Hunt landed a heavy right hook his killer instinct kicked in once again, as he chased the Kiwi star around the ring producing a heavy combination to shock the crowd.

The 48-year-old entered into the contest as a major underdog but ended SBW's unbeaten boxing record in brutal fashion in Sydney.

After three rounds the Kiwi superstar appeared relatively comfortable as he mostly stuck on the outside and built up a considerable lead in punches landed: 38 to Hunt's 18.

However, the momentum quickly switched when Hunt delivered a hook to SBW's chin, causing his mouth guard to come flying out of his mouth.

From there, it seemed there would only be one winner as Hunt chased a dazed SBW around the ring unloading a brutal combination of left and right bombs.

Rd 4: "Hunt has come out with bad intentions," Andy Raymond says on commentary as Hunt connects with a few power shots that have SBW struggling. Hunt knocks SBW's mouthguard out then drops him!

SBW answers the count but Hunt powers forward. More heavy shots follow and Hunt records an incredible KO. A brutal right-left combo sending the Kiwi star reeling.

Rd 3: Hunt not throwing a great deal in the first two rounds, as he tries to pick his spots. SBW is quick on his feet though and is proving to be elusive on the outside. Quality jab from SBW straight down the middle stuns Hunt momentarily.

Rd 2: SBW's jab providing plenty of issues for Hunt. Both men go for the overhand right and lock each other up.

Rd 1: Hunt holding centre ring and stalking SBW with his right hand cocked and ready to cause damage. However, the Kiwi star had the best of the exchanges when he penned Hunt into the corner and unleashed a number of heavy blows.

Via round two KO

Rd 2: Pangai trying to exploit his superior reach by relying on his jab. Tupai-Ui occasionally manages to cut the distance though and gets inside. Some vicious left hooks to the body land for Pangai.

Then - out of nowhere- Pangai sparks him! Tupai-Ui takes a little while to come around with the Canterbury forward coming over to check on his opponent.

A left hook to the temple sending Tupai-Ui crashing to the canvas with just seconds remaining on the clock in round two.

Rd 1: Tevita Pangai Junior and Jeremiah Tupai-Ui collide for the co-main event with a bit of feeling even in the touch of gloves before the bell.

Pangai begins with a stiff left jab, before Tupai-Ui answers with a frenzy of shots to the body. Entertaining first round that was pretty even.

UPDATE: Hunt has elected to wear the gloves SBW has provided with the main event now not far away.

Via round one KO

Big shot! Meehan started off tentatively but as soon as he opened up, he proved far too powerful.

A big right hand sends Niko crashing to the canvas with Meehan claiming a knockout on his professional debut.

An overhand left rocked Nicko who was previously dictating the pace of the contest, before two more shots from Meehan to the temple and then the jaw was enough for a first-round win.

Via round three TKO

"There's no footwork at all," Andy Raymond says on commentary as both men trade punches in close quarters early on.

"Don't sit in the middle and fight for the crowd," Abdulrahman is told by his corner after a wild first round.

Abdulrahman doesn't exactly listen to the advice though, as he continues to charge forward and look for the knockout.

Marama is out on his feet and feeling the ill-effects of body shots, so much so that he fails to answer the call for the beginning of the third round.

Abdulrahman remains undefeated and moves to 10-0.

UPDATE: Both fighters in the main event have rocked up to the arena with a different set of gloves than originally agreed upon. Either SBW or Hunt will now need to compromise in the dispute, for the fight to go ahead.

Via round one TKO

Big statement from the 'Fijian Prince' who showcased plenty of power with his right hand to get Lale out of there inside the first two and a half minutes.

Singh came out on fire after the opening bell, rocking Lale with a bomb over the top. Another dropped Lale to the canvas moments later as he only just survived an eight count.

However, Lale was in trouble yet again seconds later, when he was dropped for the second time. This time, the referee called the bout off.

Via unanimous decision

Smith and Druce get the card underway in Sydney.

Druce found his range early with Smith struggling to impose himself and only landing eight punches halfway through the fight.

Matters didn't get any better for the inexperienced man in the blue corner, with Druce recording a dominant victory thanks to some vicious left hooks to the body.

All times AEDT.

Doors to the venue open at 5pm ahead of the first bout which is scheduled for 6pm.

Fans can expect Williams and Hunt to make their way to the ring after 9:30pm, depending on the length of the earlier bouts.

Just like SBW vs. Barry Hall in March, this fight will be shown exclusively on streaming service Stan's pay-per-view, Stan Event.

The fight will be available as a paid extra for Stan subscribers, costing $60.

For those without the service, 30-day free trials are available.

Watch SBW vs. Hunt here.

The card will also feature NRL star Tevita Pangai Junior in his second professional boxing bout.

Pangai, who now plays for the Bulldogs, will take on debutant Jeremiah Tupai-Ui.

Bouts and order subject to change

Sonny Bill Williams vs. Mark Hunt, heavyweight

Tevita Pangai Junior vs. Jeremiah Tupai-Ui, heavyweight

Michael Seko vs. Junior Tafa, heavyweight

Isaac Meehan vs. Kenny Niko, heavyweight

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Sonny Bill Williams is one of New Zealand's highest sporting achievers in rugby, league and boxing but has copped more than his share of criticism along the way.

In an extended interview with Te Ao with Moana reporter Hikurangi Jackson, Williams explained how he copes with the criticism and talked about his life as a father, his faith and his love of sport.

Williams first lit up the NRL at just 18, playing for the Bulldogs. Then he shocked the league world by switching codes to rugby union, attracting massive scrutiny and criticism from both media and fans alike.

"Being a Polynesian, being a Muslim but also being a sportsman, doing what was best for me early on … I think that rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way, especially the conservative types. You know, who was this larrikin loud-mouth guy that thinks he can just go from this code to that code or go play over here," Williams says.

"I always was like, if I feel like I'm being a good person, I'm training hard, working hard and being a team man, whatever team I'm in, I feel like I'm all good."

Blocked it out

Williams admitted the negative media coverage did get to him but he had a way to deal with it.

"I worked out how to block it out, which was a lot better for my mental health. So there'd be times when I wouldn't go on social media. There'd be times where I wouldn't go and read any papers," Williams said.

"And I always trained hard. I always put the effort in the gym and I always strove to be the best teammate that I could be but I was trying to block out that outside noise sometimes because little comments or articles would get to me."

In his sporting career so far, Williams has won two Rugby World Cup trophies with the All Blacks, 12 caps for the Kiwis, one super rugby title, one ITM Cup title, the NRL title in his first season with the Bulldogs and another one when he returned to the NRL aged 28 with the Sydney Roosters.

In 2009 Williams converted to Islam. He says it helped him when he was losing his way in the chaotic world of professional sport. His brother and his mother also converted.

"When it came to the mental health struggles that I was having at that time, I've always believed in God. So for myself, I knew I needed God and, when I went down that religious path, I studied, I studied, I studied and it brought me to Islam."

'A higher purpose'

But when Williams converted, he did get a reaction from some of his teammates.

"I've had some pretty hearty conversations with some of the boys that are Christians. For myself, when it comes into that space, I always say to the bro, to whoever we're having that conversation with 'I can't tell you how to feel just like you can't tell me how to feel'," Williams says.

"From a team perspective, we just come to common ground always, that we believe in a higher purpose, which is really nice."

Throughout his career, Williams has been a vocal advocate for Polynesian, Māori and Muslim communities, aspiring to be "a voice for the voiceless," he says.

"I come from a Housing Corp household, both parents in low-income jobs, all my uncles in the Black Power. I never really saw anyone in a high position of power," he says.

"I feel like I need to represent that and I represent that through my actions as much as I can."

In 2021, Williams released his biography where he detailed the highs and lows of his sporting career and revealed more personal insights into his whānau and faith.

Since then, he's been moved by feedback from readers, including a member of the New Zealand Māori rugby team.

"He called me the other day and he was almost in tears just saying how much the book has affected him in a positive way. I remember thinking before I wrote the book that if it can affect one person like that, it'll be a success," Williams says.

He's retired from playing footy but is still boxing.

Boxing on

This year he was upskilling himself by training with world champion Tyson Fury and is now on the verge of adding another highlight to his sporting career – a potential match with YouTube boxing sensation Jake Paul that could draw in millions of viewers.

"There's a lot of hula hoops to get through before it all comes to fruition," Williams says.

"I feel like those people just want to get into this Australian market too so if I keep making noise down here, then it could happen."

Williams lives in Sydney with his wife and four children. He is also working as a sports commentator.

He admits he doesn't enjoy watching himself on television but insists proudly that his wife has his back.

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Williams has also overcome low self-esteem, a drinking problem, a wayward life and rediscovered himself in Islam. He is now retired from rugby, having played at the highest level for 16 years, but he speaks out against prejudice while dedicating himself to his new career as a professional boxer.

“I’ve felt ecstatic, with pain and sadness too, some tears,” Williams says. “But I always say a better man makes a better athlete. People might think that’s some fairytale cliche but the better man knows himself much more truthfully. He knows the reason why he is strong in some things and weak in others. That’s why I’m still a work in progress. It’s been my life – making mistakes and getting better. I hang my hat on the hard work, the strength to learn from my failures and the strength to carry on.”

He has just written his autobiography, with the Maori novelist Alan Duff, and the book is as compelling and open-hearted as Williams is on this Zoom call from Sydney. It is full of the beguiling Sonny Bill sunshine, which I’ve felt on both occasions I’ve interviewed him, that sits in contrast to the darker strands of his story. That same contradiction is at the core of his character. The first time I met Williams, in 2013, I was struck by his shyness which seemed so different to the audacity of his play and his reputation as a glittering but troubled rugby icon.

“It was a daily struggle, always,” he says now of his shyness and low self-esteem. “It was like fighting demons every day. Everyone has their own mental struggles and those were mine. I always knew I could play, and I backed my ability, but I was so different off the field. You’re seen as a leader in the team because you’re one of the best players. Of course you should be leading and talking but, man, the coach would ask me a question in the dressing room and … boof!”

Williams parodies himself crumpling in embarrassment. “I would think: ‘Just get me on the field, because that’s where I feel at ease, that’s where I can express myself with my tackling or making a break or flash off-load.’ That stuff was born in the back yard where, as little Island [Polynesian] kids, we played with freedom because you haven’t got much. But when you play football, the flash comes out, the quickstep. As Islanders we’re very physically strong and so you’re looking to match each other’s toughness and skill. From the outside it looked like: ‘Who does this guy think he is? He’s got all the confidence.’ But it was a constant struggle.”

His dad, John – a hard man who came from a brutal background and battled to show how he loved Sonny and his family in working‑class Auckland – was Samoan. His inspirational mum, Lee, a white woman, was the opposite in her ability to express love while retaining a feisty edge. The book helps Williams to understand his dad’s past more deeply, and they are close now, but his own pale skin meant he was questioned by the Polynesian and the more privileged white kids.

Rugby league helped him to find acceptance and, at 14, Sonny Bill signed a contract with Canterbury Bulldogs in Sydney. At 18 he made an explosive debut in the NRL. As his fame grew and he was plunged into unsettling social situations, he fell into drinking and drug-taking as a way of escaping his inner torment.

In 2005 he was convicted of drink-driving and the Bulldogs wheeled him out for a press conference without giving him the help he needed. Even when he found refuge in the Muslim community, which included the boxer Anthony Mundine, some people in rugby were dubious.

“You aren’t turning Muslim, are you?” Williams was asked with a concern he had not been shown before. Williams tried to make a joke of it but, on the inside, he felt lost and angry.

“We’re still in a place like that today,” he suggests, “albeit in professional sports there’s so much talk about help at your fingertips from nutrition to mental health. But all we’re doing in sport is putting a plaster that gives temporary cover to our hurt on the inside. I would make a big mistake, like drink-driving, and I’m remorseful. I really need help but as soon as I start playing well again it’s like: ‘He’s reborn, he’s back!’ But my life is still full of trouble. I was playing some of the best footie I ever played, and living the so-called dream, but deep down I was very unhappy.”

He was full of self‑loathing when, in 2008, the All Blacks’ Tana Umaga asked him if he would consider switching codes and moving to Toulon. Williams seized the chance for a new start and, while branded a mercenary and a traitor who was interested only in money, the move cost him AUS$1m (£540,000). He was taken to court by the Bulldogs and only the generosity of Mundine and others helped him find a loan to buy his way out of Sydney. The financial loss was worth it because Williams transformed himself in France.

“It was such a blessing,” Williams says of his two years in Toulon. “I went through so much hardship but the simplicity of being in France allowed me to be myself. I was relatively unknown in Europe and I had left this bubble in Sydney where everyone knows who you are. In Europe the ego took a mad punch to the face. But you ask yourself this question: ‘Who am I? I’m just a little blip in this world.’ I became really close to a Tunisian family. They were living in the projects, and had little in their lives, but I saw their happiness. I spent a lot of time with them.”

The Tunisians were also Muslims and, rather than stay every night in the swanky villa Toulon had given him, Williams slept on the floor of their little family home. “They were grateful to eat, grateful for the roof over their heads, grateful for the clothes they had. It helped me put myself back together and then, on the field, it was a massive learning experience. But I learned how to play rugby [union] from the best – Jonny Wilkinson.”

The profound relationship between Wilkinson and Williams is striking. It is also moving to think of these two sporting superstars both being terribly shy, constantly driven and always questioning themselves. “I couldn’t have dreamt of all the help that Jonny gave me,” Williams says. “I came to France carrying a million-dollar debt, full of doubt, but I just jumped on that train, playing a game I had never played before, and it was humbling.

“I don’t know if I would have played for the All Blacks if not for Jonny. He really gave me that kickstart of believing in myself as a rugby player. After the first couple of days I was thinking: ‘Man, what a good person he is.’ I also knew he was one of the special ones. He had led England to the World Cup in Australia [in 2003] and I was in awe when I saw how he operated. His work ethic was inspiring.

“He was the reason why Toulon were so successful in those years, because he was the catalyst. Every day, there would be five or six guys waiting for him after training. He went from one to the other, giving them 10 minutes each. Then he would come to me and say: ‘OK, Sonny, this is what we need to do.’ It was the same in matches. He showed me how to play.”

Williams played 66 times for the All Blacks and in three World Cups, helping New Zealand to win the tournament in 2011 and 2015. Before the 2011 final, with the country a nervous wreck after failing to win the World Cup since 1987, the All Blacks’ then assistant coach Steve Hansen pleaded with Williams not to try any outrageous off-loads. New Zealand just beat France 8-7. Four years later, Williams was true to himself and he unleashed some sumptuous off-loads in the final – the first of which was the culmination of a dazzling run from halfway. Even when he was gang-tackled by a desperate Australian defence he slipped a delicate little offload to Ma’a Nonu who scored a suddenly simple try.

Other memories of Williams endure. I can see still him comforting South Africa’s Jesse Kriel who was in despair after the 2015 semi-final. I remember him giving his World Cup winner’s medal to 14-year-old Charlie Line, who had been tackled by security men when he ran on to the field.

“Some people got upset,” he recalls. “I was back in the shed and Shag [Hansen, who had become head coach] said: ‘Did you give your gold medal away?’ He looked offended and I said: ‘It’s no big deal. What we did is about more than a medal.’”

Williams is still in touch with Line as he is now with me. We swap email addresses after the interview and the first message of sunshine from Sonny Bill arrives the next day. It helps that we are both smitten by the brutal old business of boxing, me as a writer and the 36-year-old Williams as a professional fighter. He has had eight bouts so far, winning them all, but it is only now that he can dedicate himself to the most exacting and dangerous of all sports.

“I’m doing this for two years, and leaving no stone unturned. I’ve got so much to learn, like even just holding your hands up for 12 rounds. But I love it, bro, I really love it.”

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