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SBW about-face undermines image rebuild

Published: 6:07AM Thursday October 10, 2013 Source: AAP

A reputation restored by eighth months of NRL brilliance is in danger of crumbling under the feet of Kiwi superstar Sonny Bill Williams by virtue of his late addition to the Kiwis' World Cup squad.

A day after saying he would sidestep the end-of-season tournament to rest his body, Williams was yesterday brought into the Kiwi 24-man squad, with Melbourne back rower Tohu Harris the unlucky fall guy.

Coach Stephen Kearney described breaking the news to Harris as "a conversation no coach would like to have", but said he could not pass up the opportunity to bring in Williams.

"It's been a tough situation, but Sonny brings things to the group that we couldn't ignore," Kearney said. "He has had time since his NRL Grand Final win to clear his head and he wants to represent the Kiwis on the world stage.

"He missed our 2008 World Cup win and his inclusion will be a great asset in trying to repeat that success this year. It's not only his footballing ability, but also what he brings off the field which will benefit the team."

While Williams' inclusion is a boon for tournament organisers and the Kiwis, public sentiment is very much with Harris, who declined an opportunity to travel to Europe as part of the touring party.

Having gone to great lengths to repair an image shattered by his clandestine exit from Canterbury in 2008, the good vibes generated by his heroics in leading the Sydney Roosters to this year's NRL premiership are quickly disappearing amidst claims the dual international thinks of himself as being bigger than the game.

Williams said he felt for Harris: "I'm really sorry about the Tohu situation - it was never my intention I just followed my heart, now i promise ill play with all of it." he tweeted.

NZ Rugby League chief executive Phil Holden admitted Williams' action would attract criticism.

"We want to win the World Cup, we want to take the best team," Holden said. "He's clearly an undeniable talent, but we recognise it's a polarising decision."

Just what sparked Williams' about face remains unclear, with Kearney initially told that Williams was unavailable due to other commitments.

When the squad was announced, Williams took to Twitter on Tuesday afternoon to wish his countrymen the best, adding he was looking forward to his first break since 2008.

Then, on Tuesday evening, it was confirmed Williams had backflipped and now wanted to play - the Roosters back-rower again took to social media on Wednesday to explain his actions.

"After a few tough seasons topped with an amazing one with the boys at the Roosters, I was then faced with the opportunity to have a long awaited break and go on holiday with my family," he tweeted.

"Without thinking the whole situation through thoroughly, I eagerly jumped at the chance to chill out and rest.

"After having some time to really think about how much representing my country means to me, I decided to then put my name forward for selection."

Taking the emotion out of the decision, it shaped as a no-brainer for Kearney.

Harris, who made his Test debut against Australia in April - a game that Williams missed due to a one-week knee injury - figured to be a fringe member of the squad, while Williams could be the key to New Zealand defending their title.

Williams' about-face came without any assurances that he would remain in rugby league, but does give hope that his mooted return to Super Rugby's Chiefs in 2014 may not be a fait accompli.

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