'Freak of nature' Sonny Bill 'best athlete' ever: Hansen

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Sydney (AFP)

Former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen Friday nominated "freak of nature" Sonny Bill Williams as the best athlete he has ever worked with ahead of the New Zealander's return to Australian rugby league.

The cross-code superstar, 35, is expected to come off the bench for the Sydney Roosters in their clash against the Canberra Raiders on Saturday after completing a mandatory coronavirus quarantine period.

It will mark his return to a club where he played in 2013-2014, after finding himself at a loose end when Covid-19 forced his Toronto Wolfpack side to withdraw from England's Super League.

While Williams won National Rugby League premierships in 2004 and 2013, represented New Zealand in rugby sevens at the 2016 Olympics and won all seven of his professional heavyweight boxing bouts, he is best known as a giant of rugby union.

He claimed two World Cups with the All Blacks, as well as numerous Bledisloe Cups and Rugby Championships, with Hansen alongside him for much of the ride.

Despite coaching some of the top players the world has known, including Richie McCaw, Ma'a Nonu and Dan Carter, the 61-year-old said Williams was the best athlete.

"The greatest rugby player I've coached was McCaw but Sonny would be the best athlete I've coached from a pure athlete sense," Hansen, who quit as New Zealand coach after the 2019 World Cup, told the Sydney Daily Telegraph. "He's a freak of nature."

He also hailed Williams as a role model for younger players.

"As he has got older, he has matured. His training habits and his off-field habits are world-class now," he said. "He will be a good role model for the young fellas in the club."

Hansen is now director of rugby at Japanese side Toyota Verblitz, which also boosts former All Blacks captain Kieran Read among its ranks, and from January next year Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper.

Asked if he missed coaching, Hansen replied: "The All Blacks haven't had a game so I've been quite lucky to have the opportunity to get used to not coaching them without having to watch them.

"I'm sure there will be a tug in the old heart when they finally get out onto the track," he added.

"But 'Fossie' (new coach Ian Foster) will do a great job with them I'm sure, and I'm really excited for him to take the team to the next level."