Sonny Bill Williams blames two people for star player’s ‘sad’ exit to league

David Skippers
Mark Nawaqanitawase Australia RWC 2023 - Alamy.jpg

Mark Nawaqanitawase in action for the Wallabies during the Rugby World Cup in France.

Sonny Bill Williams says that Mark Nawaqanitawase’s move to the NRL is “sad” and believes former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones and Rugby Australia chief executive Hamish McLennan are to blame for it.

Nawaqanitawase is set to join NRL outfit the Sydney Roosters in 2025, as he still has one year left on his Rugby Australia contract.

The 23-year-old switch to the 13-man code means he will miss out on the Wallabies’ three-Test series against the British & Irish Lions in Australia in 2025, but he could be involved in the 2027 Rugby World Cup.

Rapid rise to the top

Waratahs star Nawaqanitawase has had a rapid rise to the top and cemented his place in the Wallabies‘ starting line-up since making his international debut on last year’s end-of-year tour to Europe. He went on to be a standout performer in what was a disappointing showing in the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

And former All Blacks centre Williams believes Jones and McLennan are largely to blame for the player’s decision to switch codes.

“I just thought that was sad,” he told Nine’s Wide World of Sports. “I thought that was just a reflection of the Jones, McLennan era. – what I saw.

“How can we have arguably the best player on tour and only in his early 20s jump ship? It should be the time of your life.

“Unless he’s going through some mental health issues and all of that – but obviously, he isn’t – how can that occur? You should be loving the environment.

“That was a reflection of that. That’s what I believe.”

Similar players waiting for an opportunity

Although Nawaqanitawase’s impending departure is a blow for Australia, Williams believes there are other similar players who are determined to shine if given an opportunity.

“I’m telling you, there are a lot of that Nawaqanitawases out in Western Sydney,” said Williams.

“There are a lot of these players that we need to find in Australia. When you say, ‘Oh, are we fearful of losing these top players?’ You get the system, right? Players come, players go – hold on to the ones that you need to hold on to.

“You don’t overly stress on the fact that there’s no talent coming through because it’s there you just need some strategies and pathways put in place where we can see and start seeing some of those players come through.”

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