SPIRO: Where will Sonny Bill Williams be next season?
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Sonny Bill Williams during the NRL round 1, Sydney Roosters v South Sydney Rabbitohs. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Renee McKay)
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Khoder Nasser has given the great Wallaby inside centre and now one of the better commentators, Tim Horan, a verbal bollocking for having the audacity to suggest that next season Sonny Bill Williams will be playing for the Chiefs and the All Blacks.
At the risk of getting a verbal bollocking myself, I am putting up my hand to say that I think that Horan is right.
And the reason why Horan is probably right? Sonny Bill Williams is a once-in-a-lifetime athlete who is determined to leave a legacy as a rugby league great, an All Black great and (this is the problematic part) a world champion boxer.
The test of the legacy for Williams is titles. He has won a NRL grand final and this year has been sensational with the Roosters, leading them around the field, especially on attack, possibly to a premiership title for the first time since 2004.
If he stays uninjured he could galvanise them to go all the way.
Hailed before he bolted from the Canterbury Bulldogs to play rugby as ‘the greatest player in the game,’ Sonny Bill lost a host of fans, virtually the entire league community, with his sudden decision to break his contract with his club.
My feeling is that by coming back to league, supposedly because of a hand shake agreement with Nick Politis, Williams has attempted to restore his credibility with rugby league fans. And if this has happened, it means that when he enters the boxing part of his fabulous career he has opened up the Australian market to see him trying to make his mark in the ‘sweet science.’
Has his credibility been restored? With the majority of league journalists and supporters, I would say this is the case.
The journalists at The Daily Telegraph now refer to him as a ‘superstar’ and concede that ‘he has grown into a seriously decent man.’
All has been forgiven, apparently, after Sonny Bill Williams apologised on The Footy Show to the Bulldogs fans for the way he walked out on the club.
There are a handful of doubters. Malcolm Knox, a brilliant sports writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote last Saturday in an article titled, ‘League Cannot Drop Its Pants To Keep Sonny Bill Williams’:
“If all players were SBW-style freelancers, exciting admiration but not bloodthirsty rage, where would the competition be?
“League has always been a sport for mercenaries … but it is the one-club player who is league’s crown jewel, and if salary cap rules are bent or broken, far better that it happen for the one-clubber than for the mythical “marquee” player.”
The problem with this argument is that Sonny Bill Williams is no myth. He is the real deal. He puts bums on seats, eyes on TV and, like Brad Thorn, championship form for any team he plays for.
And league needs players like Sonny Bill Williams who can provide the magic, on and off the field, that makes the grunt work of the journeymen effective.
Even Phil Rothfield, the legendary sports editor of The Sunday Telegraph, is in despair over the way the newish CEO David Smith has lost support of the clubs.
I don’t want league supporters to take this the wrong way but in legacy terms league championships, titles and accolades are small beer in terms of world sport.
In Europe, the USA, Japan, all huge sporting markets, the Roosters are feather dusters compared with the All Blacks.
Sorry, but this is just the case. The world biggest insurance company, AIG, has its logo on the All Blacks jersey. Adidas puts its sponsorship of the All Blacks in the same category of business deals as its sponsorship of the Brazil national football team.
As well as world fame and a lot more money, rugby gives Sonny Bill Williams the chance to create a legacy that no one in the history of the sport might ever match.
If he plays for the Chiefs next season, he will be joining a team that is trying to create a new dynasty in Super Rugby by adding a third title in three years.
The Chiefs have held a place open for him in their 2014 squad in anticipation of an announcement after the NRL finals that he is coming back to Hamilton.
During the 2011 Rugby World Cup, Sonny Bill Williams was a very minor member of the winning All Blacks. He played a couple of minutes in the semi-final against the Wallabies and was given a yellow card.
He came on in the last minutes of the final, so was on the field when the victory was counted down. The rumour in New Zealand was that part of his agreement with the New Zealand Rugby Union was a guarantee of a place in the squad that played in the final.
But in 2012, SBW showed he had mastered the inside centre position. He was the complete rugby player. His play sparked the Chiefs to their first Super Rugby title (back to the legacy thing) and he contributed brilliantly to the All Blacks in The Rugby Championship.
There is another Rugby World Cup tournament in England in 2015. If Williams stars for the All Blacks in this tournament, he will become a worldwide superstar.
But there is more. Rugby Sevens will be played at the Rio Olympics for the first time, and rugby’s re-entry into the Olympics after it was dropped in the 1920s.
Imagine the spotlight on Sonny Bill Williams if he plays for the All Black Sevens and sparks them to Olympic Gold!
The scary thing is that while other players can fantasise about reaching such heights of glory, Sonny Bill Williams knows he can do it, and he relishes the challenge of putting himself under the pressure of achieving the seemingly unachievable.
And this is why I think he will make the jump across codes and across the Tasman.
Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.
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