New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney insists superstar Sonny Bill Williams was never being considered for the rugby league Test against Australia.
A report on Wednesday claimed Williams planned to boycott the May 2 Test, still angry at being implicated in a sleeping pill and energy drink scandal on last year’s World Cup tour in England despite being cleared of any wrongdoing.
But Kearney said he and fellow selectors weren’t thinking of picking the dual international anyway as they’re planning for the next World Cup in 2017 and Williams is going back to rugby union after this season.
Perhaps indicating how frosty relations are, Kearney said he’d heard reports Williams was unavailable for the Test but hadn’t heard from the player himself.
“From the selectors’ point of view, we’ve approached this Test match with the mindset of looking to win the next World Cup,” he said.
“From a selection process, that’s what we went about, so Sonny hasn’t been spoken about because of the mindset we’ve taken with the future in mind.”
Asked if the selectors had let Williams know this, Kearney said: “We’ve tried to, yes.
“I’m not going to get into the details. We’ve gone through our process of trying to make everyone aware of what our plans are.”
Facing a growing injury count, Kearney is awaiting this weekend’s round of NRL matches with more than a little trepidation as he prepares to name his team on Sunday afternoon.
Kieran Foran is the latest to be ruled out, the Manly playmaker injuring his right knee medial ligament during his team’s 26-21 win over North Queensland on Friday.
Hooker Issac Luke has already been sidelined with a shoulder injury, while back-rower Frank Pritchard’s pectoral tear has him out for at least three months and Warriors’ standoff Thomas Leuluai’s groin injury leaves him unavailable.
“There are some names returning to the Kiwi jumper who are in good form, but we’ve still got another week to get through,” said Kearney.
“We’ve got to keep our fingers crossed and hope everyone pulls through.”
Kearney was reluctant to be drawn on possible replacements for Foran, but agreed new Brisbane standoff Josh Hoffman was a chance to partner Shaun Johnson in the halves.
“It’s certainly a new position for him, but the one thing I know Josh gives regardless of where he’s playing on the field is a wonderful energy and real spirit.
Versatile Manly fullback Peta Hiku has also impressed, although Kearney is still unsure where his best position is.
“We’ve been watching Peta closely… it will depend on the events of this weekend, but he could play anywhere in the backline which is a real positive for us.
“I’m sure he’ll come into contention for a position, but where that best position for him is at this stage will depend on this weekend.”
Kearney said developing a squad towards the 2017 World Cup in New Zealand and Australia was a top priority.
“There’s going to be some new faces, there’s going to be some old faces returning to the group. I don’t think momentum, energy and spirit will be an issue with the group we select on Sunday.”