Andrew Gourdie: Sonny Bill Williams' ultimate test

OPINION: Sonny Bill Williams is about to enter a phase of his career that will define his sporting legacy. 

He showed his class in a successful return from injury against the Hurricanes on Friday and that will be enough to prove to All Blacks selectors he's ready to take on France in June.

If he can remain injury-free over the next 18 months, he has a chance to finally put his critics to bed and redefine how he will be remembered.

At 32, Sonny Bill has done more than most sportspeople could dream of. Rugby league, boxing, rugby - he's a phenomenal athlete and a genuine cross-code star. 

It could be argued, though, that despite winning multiple titles and awards, he's a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. Rugby league fans won't remember him with the legends of their game.

Likewise, he's never quite been able to win over union fans to be considered a true great of the 15-a-side code. He has an opportunity to change that.

Andrew Gourdie: Sonny Bill Williams' ultimate test

Only 20 rugby players in the history of the game have won the World Cup twice. Williams is one of them.

Some of the greats of the game occupy the list - John Eales, Tim Horan, Richie McCaw, Dan Carter to name a few. Others on the list were very good players in great teams. 

Next year, Williams will try to become the first three-time winner, alongside Kieran Read, Owen Franks and Sam Whitelock. 

That trio can rightly be considered great All Blacks, Read with more than 100 caps to his name, Franks and Whitelock to follow shortly. All were starters in the last two World Cup finals.

Williams' situation is different, some of it circumstantial, some of it of his own making. He played the role of squad member in 2011, unable to break into the first-choice line-up.

Later, he developed into a midfield weapon with the Chiefs and had two years back in rugby league with the Roosters. But when he returned to rugby union, he found that his road to the All Blacks midfield remained blocked by Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith - two others who feature on the list of 20 dual World Cup winners. 

Williams' impact on the 2015 tournament was greater, but that word - impact - was made for him in an era that saw the 15-man game become a 23-man game. He was the perfect bench player, even if his impact could have been felt from the opening whistle.

He played an important 40 minutes off the bench in the second half of the final against Australia, after Smith was substituted at half-time. It would prove to be a changing of the guard.

The number 12 jersey has been Sonny Bill's ever since. He's formed a strong partnership with Ryan Crotty, which will be hard for other contenders to break so close to a World Cup, as Williams has discovered in the past. 

Williams has to make 2019 his year. This is his chance to play a full and meaningful role in a World Cup victory that will earn him membership to a very exclusive club.

Despite having two World Cup medals to his name, and the respect of teammates and coaches alike, he needs this to earn the respect of All Blacks fans and to be talked about as one of the best to don the black jersey.

Williams polarises sports fans in a way that few can, but regardless of what you think of him, this achievement would unquestionably launch him into the category of great All Blacks. 

As he approaches the twilight of a truly remarkable career, playing a leading role in a World Cup victory shapes as his ultimate sporting test.

Andrew Gourdie is a sports reporter/presenter and host of RadioLIVE's Sunday Sport from 2pm