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Nonu, SBW expected to leave

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'We are assuming that they're not going to be there' - Blues coach Leon MacDonald resigned to losing key veterans

Blues head coach Leon MacDonald isn’t expecting star midfielders Sonny Bill Williams and Ma’a Nonu to return to the Auckland franchise next season.

Speaking to the New Zealand Herald after his side’s 22-all draw with the Bulls at Eden Park on Friday, MacDonald said the Blues weren’t in negotiations for a new contract with either player for next year.

“We are assuming that they’re not going to be there – that’s the way we’re looking at it,” MacDonald said.

“It would be more of a surprise to see them stay and play another season in New Zealand – put it that way.

“I’m assuming they’re more interested in another option, but if they came back to us and said New Zealand is where they want to be for another year then we’d definitely be talking.”

At the ages of 37 and 33, Nonu and Williams are in the twilights of their respective professional sporting careers, but both will take vast amounts of experience with them.

Nonu made his Super Rugby debut in 2003 for the Hurricanes, and has gone on to amass 173 appearances with the Wellington-based club, the Blues and the Highlanders to add to his 103 test caps two World Cup titles attained with the All Blacks.

He has been in good form for MacDonald’s side this year – his third stint with the club – making 12 appearances and scoring three times.

Despite this, an improbable return to the All Blacks squad for the World Cup remains unlikely due to the conveyer belt of talent ahead of Nonu in the midfield.

Reports earlier this week suggested that he could make a remarkable return to Toulon once his time with the Blues comes to an end, re-joining the French club he played for between 2016 and 2018 as replacement for the New York-bound Mathieu Bastareaud.

Williams, meanwhile, has hardly featured for the Blues since the beginning of last year, playing just six times in 2018, and only five times this year.

His limited game time in Super Rugby is the result of injuries sustained over the course of 15 years at the top level of both rugby union and rugby league.

Nevertheless, his inclusion in the All Blacks’ World Cup squad appears inevitable should he be fit for the tournament given his experience and talent on both sides of the ball.

It would be the 51-test star’s third, and likely final, outing at the sport’s global showpiece event, where he will look to add a third successive winners medal to the two Super Rugby crowns and two NRL titles he’s claimed across union and league.

Williams won’t be short of options when his current contract with New Zealand Rugby runs out at the end of this year, with a return to European or Japanese rugby, or rugby league in Australia, the United Kingdom or North America, all still on the table.

He could also opt to resume his stagnant professional boxing career, while a move into retirement could also be imminent.

Williams is set to return from a long-term knee injury, which has sidelined him since late March, against the Reds in Brisbane next Friday.

In other news:

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'We are assuming that they're not going to be there' - Blues coach Leon MacDonald resigned to losing key veterans