Sonny Bill Williams wants to be known as as the world's greatest cross-code athlete and heavyweight boxing champion. As Gregor Paul writes, that means his All Black career will continue in spite of the speculation about his departure.
It's not haggling over money that is holding up Sonny Bill Williams' contract talks - it is building the flexibility he needs to fulfil his goal of becoming the world's greatest athlete.
It may seem an incongruous ambition after his fight with a sickness beneficiary, but Williams is serious about becoming heavyweight boxing champion of the world. He's serious about becoming a great All Black. He's serious about being remembered as the greatest cross-code athlete the world has known.
The breadth and scale of his ambition has made for a challenging negotiation. The New Zealand Rugby Union is aware of Williams' stunning athletic capability. Even in the elite company of the All Blacks, Williams stands out as outrageously gifted; a 110kg, 1.94m second five - that's as freakish as Jonah Lomu.
Explosive, fast, agile and a natural ball player - Williams is the total package. He conquered league, he makes rugby look easy and probably he could master Australian Rules if he wanted, even give the decathlon a decent crack.
For the next year, probably two if not longer, being an All Black sits at the core of Williams' life plan. He wants to continue progressing as a boxer as well and this is the tricky part for the NZRU.
They desperately want Williams. Not only does he possess the skill set to give the All Blacks a fascinating point of difference, he is a player people will pay to watch; an inspiration to the young.
"It's not about the money," NZRU general manager of professional rugby Neil Sorensen said. "It's what Khoder and Sonny [Williams' agent Khoder Nasser] want to achieve. They have some really lofty ambitions and they have a really clear goal about what they want Sonny to achieve as an athlete. They have his future mapped out over the next few years."
Money has never been the driver for Williams, "if it was," says Sorensen, "he wouldn't be playing in New Zealand."
Williams' salary demands are fair and reasonable - reflective mainly of the actual more than the potential. His current contract doesn't even place him in the top 10 earners and while he's looking for a major lift to stay on past the World Cup, there is by all accounts realism about what is fair and affordable.
Everything hinges on the level of flexibility. The key to signing Williams last year was allowing him to box.
The NZRU agreed he could fight three times during his contract period - a concession that meant Williams could pursue his extramural sporting goals while also earning handsomely in the process. In essence the licence to box was not so different to the playing sabbaticals extended to Dan Carter and Richie McCaw. While much has been made about the physical risks Williams is taking by boxing, the NZRU have never held those fears. Williams is far more likely to be injured playing
rugby than he is boxing.
He'll take some blows to the head but the allround pounding will be considerably less than he would take in a test match where vulnerable joints are fully exposed.
Allowing Carter to play in Perpignan on the back of a full southern hemisphere season in 2009 was a much bigger risk.
There is a neat symmetry in the basic conditioning work required for both rugby and boxing.
The key issue lies in how generous the NZRU feel they can be in granting Williams the space to chase his secondary goal of becoming the heavyweight world champion. With no amateur pedigree in the sport, Williams has had to plot his opponents with care - building his career slowly.
At some stage he's going to need to fight people more convincing than Alipate Liava'a. To be ready for the bigger challenges, he needs time to learn his craft. He has the frame, the desire and all the physical attributes except technique.
He is, apparently, mainly self-taught having watched endless videos of former world champion Roy Jones Junior. To have come this far on the back of natural talent and his vicarious learning module is typically Williams.
During the Crusaders bye week, he popped down to his local gym in Christchurch and was persuaded to spar. A talented group that included Commonwealth Games class fighters boxed for five rounds against Williams on two minute rotations. No one landed a thing as he reportedly bobbed and weaved, showing remarkable evasion skills.
He's probably going to need to box more than three times a year to progress to where he wants to be. He's going to need to spend more time boxing than he currently does but this can't be at the expense of his rugby development.
For all the impact he has already had, he is still learning the code, still feeling his way into the game.
Both the NZRU and Nasser want to reach a compromise; neither party sees a conflict of interests and both are convinced that Williams can achieve his goal.