AAP Rugby

Hasler backs Williams to fly for Eagles

By AAP Newswire

He hasn't played for more than 500 days but Tony Williams knows enough about the NRL to make an impact in Manly's sudden-death final against Cronulla.

That's the belief of Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler, who all but confirmed Williams will be a shock inclusion against the Sharks on Saturday.

"He'll be coming off the bench but at the moment he's on an extended bench. We'll start 1-17," Hasler said on Friday.

It would be a stunning return to the game Williams, whose career looked over this time last year after being sacked by Parramatta for failing an illicit drugs test.

It was the second time the former Kangaroos star had tested positive to an illicit substance, forcing him to serve a 12-game suspension.

The development came just months after Williams had suffered an ACL injury, prompting fears he had played his final game in the NRL.

That was until he was thrown a lifeline by the Sea Eagles' feeder club, Blacktown Workers, where he served his suspension before returning to the field in May.

He has since played 10 games for the reserve grade side, averaged 121 metres, and lasted the 80 minutes in his past seven appearances.

And now Williams is primed to make what would be a remarkable comeback to a side ravaged by suspension and injury and desperate for experience.

"He's in good shape," Hasler said of the now 30-year-old.

"He played reserve grade, this year. And he didn't really kick off until round 10, hence the reason why we had to apply for dispensation.

"At the moment, we're looking pretty healthy. We'll have another round of fitness checks tomorrow and then we'll make a decision."

Hasler has a lengthy history with Williams, having coached the Parramatta junior for three seasons at Manly before re-uniting in Canterbury between 2013-16.

Williams played his best football under Hasler, earning his Kangaroos debut in 2011 and his maiden NSW State of Origin jumper the following year.

"Tony's an experienced campaigner at this kind of thing. He's morphing back to the start of it all, really," Hasler said.

"Obviously he's still at an age and time in his career where he feels he can play rugby league. He feels he can add on, and we think he can as well.

"He's been through that reconciliation program, (so he) just wants to play.

"Tony's a pretty seasoned campaigner. He's played numerous grand finals, and he's played in pressure games. He knows what he has to do."