New Zealand star named in the second row for World Cup Pool game.
Code-swapping star Sonny Bill Williams will make his return for defending champions New Zealand in their final Rugby League World Cup Pool B game against Papua New Guinea on Friday.
Williams, who as a centre won the Rugby World Cup with the All Blacks on home soil in 2011, was named in his preferred league position of second row alongside Alex Glenn.
He missed last weekend’s 48-0 demolition of France, which followed the Kiwis’ opening 42-24 victory over Samoa. The two wins assured New Zealand of a place in the quarter-finals.
But Williams will be out to make good on his gaffe against the Samoans when he slipped over the dead-ball line when going to score a try one-handed – and not a defender in sight.
“Embarrassed to not score, but nothing wrong with a lil humble pie,” he tweeted at the time.
The team against PNG, who have lost both their matches so far, 9-8 to France and 38-4 to Samoa, will be captained by stand-off Kieran Foran in the absence of rested skipper Simon Mannering.
“Particularly with the backs and edge forwards – in the sense of Alex Glenn and Sonny Bill Williams – it was a matter of getting consistency of who guys are playing alongside now,” said coach Stephen Kearney.
“I think that’s important, keeping in mind what’s ahead for us. That was the idea behind having the likes of Dean Whare and Manu Vatuvei back in there.
“With the forwards, with Jesse Bromwich and Sam Moa not playing last week, it was an opportunity to give them a game. And we’re giving guys like Simon Mannering and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves a rest.”
Also rested is influential second-rower Frank Pritchard, who is having a week off to get over a couple of minor knocks from the match against France.
“Frank has a cork above his knee and a bit of a sore ankle. There was a short period of time from the plane trip on Monday to Friday’s match and I thought it would be best to give him a break,” said Kearney.
And there is no run-out for former Wiganer Thomas Leuluai, the playmaker still complaining of a groin complaint.
“Obviously there are some big players – such as Simon, Jared and Frank – not playing this week, but I couldn’t say for certain that this is the side that plays next week with those players I’ve just mentioned included,” Kearney said.
“Right across the whole group, the pressure to perform is there because guys like Jason Nightingale, Kevin Locke and Krisnan Inu are waiting for an opportunity. That pressure is there, even more so, in the forwards. I think that’s a real positive for us.”
The PNG Kumuls have a couple of household names in their ranks in Huddersfield Giants’ Jason Chan and Paul Aiton, who has just signed for Leeds Rhinos from Super League rivals Wakefield.
“It is nice that we have been able to get the deal done ahead of Friday’s game against the Kiwis,” Aiton said of his transfer.
“I hope the Leeds fans will be out in force on Friday night and they will give me and the Papua New Guinea boys all their support as we know we face a big challenge against New Zealand.”