Hansen's 'greatest athlete' Sonny Bill set for NRL return

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Sonny Bill Williams opens the latest chapter in his long career when he returns to Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) on Saturday and he’ll do so with plaudits of former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen ringing in his ears.

The dual code New Zealand international won back-to-back Rugby World Cups under Hansen in 2011 and 2015 and the four-times World Rugby coach of the year said Williams was among the best players he had ever mentored.

“The greatest rugby player I’ve coached was (Richie) McCaw but Sonny would be the best athlete I’ve coached from a pure athlete sense,” Hansen told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

“He’s a freak of nature ... he can do things other people can’t do.”

Sydney Roosters fans will be hoping to see plenty of that when Williams, who played in the backs in union but is a forward in league, runs out against the Canberra Raiders on Saturday in a re-match of last year’s NRL Grand Final.

Williams, 35, has alternated between union and league throughout his career and sandwiched a championship-winning season with the Roosters between World Cup wins in the 15-man code.

The excitement ahead of his third stint the NRL has been palpable.

“I knew what bringing him back would do, I’m excited, I think it’s great for the game,” Trent Robinson, who has led the Roosters to the last two NRL titles, said on Friday.

“It’s great to have Sonny back, he’s fitted quite seamlessly back into the group. He’s good to go.”

The Raiders won the first match between the two sides earlier this season at Sydney Cricket Ground and Saturday’s clash looms as a “must win” for the Roosters as they look to remain in the top four of the standings.

The reigning champions have suffered a series of injuries to key players this season but also welcome back influential five eighth Luke Keary after a rib injury for the trip to the capital.

Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Christopher Cushing