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Sonny Bill set to go
Submitting to the media hype has become a lot easier for rugby league superstar Sonny Bill Williams after being cleared of a mystery injury.
Bulldogs coach Steve Folkes said today that the 19-year-old superstar would be at peak fitness for the World Club Challenge against Leeds on February 4 after recuperating from a minor shoulder injury.
But Folkes was amused by reports that Williams was in doubt for the annual showdown between the NRL and English premiers due to off-season surgery.
Folkes said he had read that Williams had a minor operation upon returning from Tri-Nations duty for New Zealand last November.
"I read something about him having a shoulder operation after he returned from the tour," Folkes said at the Bulldogs' final training session today before flying out for the UK tomorrow night.
"Our medical staff knew nothing about it. He must have gone off and done it on his own.
"He's fine now. He obviously had some shoulder problems but he's worked pretty hard on some specific weight programs for that shoulder and our medical staff is pretty happy."
Williams will be a key member for a Bulldogs outfit who are without six frontline players due to injury - props Willie Mason (foot) and Mark O'Meley (knee), backrower Andrew Ryan (knee), halfback Brent Sherwin (hip), centre Ben Harris (hip) and winger Matt Utai (ankle).
Folkes said they were all expected to be fit for the NRL season opener in March, except Mason and Harris.
"Mason won't be (fit for the first round). I don't think Ben Harris will be but the rest will go very close to being right for March 11," he said.
"This (World Club Challenge squad) is the very best we can muster right now."
Folkes said the club was still no closer to re-signing a string of key players coming off contract including Williams.
"We've got a number of terrific players who come off contract next year so ... it would be lovely to secure them all," Folkes said.
"But we realise that will be extremely difficult but we are working towards that and Sonny is just one of those guys."
Folkes handed the captaincy to Tony Grimaldi for the World Club Challenge but kept his silence on a permanent replacement for departed skipper Steve Price.
"Everyone keeps hounding me on who is going to be the captain. I don't think I have to tell you until we play (in March) do I?" Folkes laughed.
"It's a letter beside your name and a bit of prestige associated with it but we have a host of good leaders on the field - just because one has the `c' against his name makes him no more important than the others."