December 11, 2023

Former Black Ferns Sevens star Williams’ warning to NZ Rugby after switching to rugby league

Niall Williams in action for Black Ferns Sevens.

One of New Zealand’s most high profile female rugby players has a message for officials after announcing she’s switching codes.

On Thursday, Black Ferns sevens star Niall Williams confirmed she’d signed a one-year deal with the Gold Coast Titans in the NRL-W competition.

And on her way out, she has a warning for NZ Rugby, as the battle to retain their leading talent heats up.

After nearly a decade long career for the Black Ferns Sevens, the 34-year old announced her retirement from the game earlier this year.

She will see out the World Series circuit with New Zealand in France next month, before joining the NRL-W competition in Australia for the next year and following in the footsteps of her brother, former All Black and Kiwis star Sonny Bill Williams, in making the code-swap.

Although Williams hadn’t always envisaged a switch.

“I got a few offers about NRL-W and that’s when it kind of hit me – maybe,” Williams told Newshub.

And because she’s unlikely to be the last, she’s imploring NZR to be more proactive around retaining their female players.

“I’ve just seen them sign [All Blacks and Blues star] Reiko Ioane for a few more years, so all we are asking for – if they’re worth it, you’re going to put the effort in to secure them for longer.

And longer is what Williams wants for women in New Zealand, with the NRL-W providing the perfect alternative if it doesn’t happen.

“It’s not saying ‘you know I’m going to play NRL now, so you can’t keep me’, it’s just saying ‘if you value me and you want me to stick around give me what I deserve and start pulling out those long term contracts’,” she added.

But it goes both ways.Former Kiwi Fern Katelyn Vaha’akolo earned her first Black Ferns contract this week, but it’s only one of 34. 

She got a life-changing call from new Black Ferns director of rugby Allan Bunting.

“I low key thought I was in trouble,” Vaha’akolo recalled. “But when he offered [a contract] to me, I started crying.”

But there will be no tears for Williams, who will show others what is possible.

“Obviously it’s super exciting to see and she’s paving the way for other people to come through,” said Kiwi Ferns wing Madison Bartlett.

And with an Olympics and Commonwealth Games on her CV, Williams could be back in black. Although this time, in a Kiwi Ferns jersey.

“If there was an opportunity and I earned it, I would definitely be pulling it on with a strong two hands,” Williams insisted.

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