Code-hopper still to make up his mind where his long-term future lies.
Sonny Bill Williams apologised for forcing a rookie player out of New Zealand’s Rugby League World Cup squad, admitting his actions could be seen as selfish.
But the cross-code superstar, who has faced a barrage of criticism after performing a selection U-turn, said he would not be able to live with himself if he missed the chance to help the Kiwis defend their title.
“I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror so I had to make the phone call and say I was available,” he told the BBC World Service.
Williams, who is weighing up whether to return to rugby union or stay with league, only changed his mind about going to the October 26-November 30 tournament once the squad had been announced on Tuesday, after previously declaring he was going on holiday.
The backflip meant Melbourne Storm novice Tohu Harris was axed from the 24-man squad to make way for Williams, who is regarded as one of the best players in the game.
Harris has described himself as “bitterly disappointed”, while his parents were left scrambling to cancel plane tickets from New Zealand to Britain they had booked expecting to see their 21-year-old son in action.
“I’m sorry for taking someone else’s spot,” Williams said, adding that he initially snubbed the Kiwis because he felt he needed a break after helping the Sydney Roosters win the National Rugby League grand final over the weekend.
The New Zealand Herald has condemned the selection debacle as a “day of shame” for the Kiwis and Williams conceded his conduct could be seen as selfish.
But the 28-year-old, who won the Rugby World Cup with the All Blacks in 2011, said he was desperate to win the league equivalent, particularly after missing the Kiwis’ 2008 victory because he had just switched to union.
“In 10 years I’d have had regrets about not making myself available, I’ve got a lot of time after I’m retired,” he said.
“It can be played off as selfish, but I just left it (the selection decision) in the coach’s hands. Now that I’m there, don’t expect anything other than a full-hearted performance.”
Former Kiwis coach Graham Lowe said the handling of the situation resembled “amateur hour” and Herald columnist Chris Rattue labelled the Kiwis’ eagerness to accommodate Williams’ wishes “disgusting”.
He added: “Sport loves to claim it stands for fine ideals when we all should know that it is often a ruthless, cynical business… Camp SBW (Williams) hold the power, and wield it disdainfully while weak men fall at their feet.”
Radio Sport commentator Brendan Telfer said Harris’ axing was a “brutal decision” but reflected the reality that Williams significantly boosts the Kiwis’ chances of defending the title they won in 2008.
Williams is expected to announce by the end of the month whether he will stay with league or rejoin the All Blacks for a tilt at the 2015 World Cup and the Olympic Sevens in 2016