Sonny Bill Williams eyes big-money move to AFL

Geoff Lemon Columnist

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    The AFL’s poachers are gunning for their biggest trophy yet, with rugby union and league star Sonny Bill Williams offered a multimillion-dollar deal to commence after next year’s Rugby World Cup.

    In what may be a strategic leak by either party, two Sydney sports journalists have reported receiving details that AFL boss Andrew Demetriou personally met with Williams in January, in a preliminary discussion arranged by controversial agent Khoder Nasser.

    While no deal was reached, Demetriou was able to make his pitch regarding a potential code swap, including the outline of an offer that could reach $3 million for a one-off trial season.

    Much of the deal would be funded by the AFL itself as a promotional expense. Given Demetriou’s commitment to his pet expansion teams, the Greater Western Sydney Giants are the most likely candidate for Williams’ services.

    The star utility is contracted to play the 2014 NRL season with the Sydney Roosters, then code-swap to Super Rugby side the Chiefs in preparation for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

    He has already won two NRL premierships, a Super Rugby title, and a Rugby World Cup. By the end of next year he could feasibly have another of each. Particularly if the All Blacks defend their title, Williams may feel he has little left to achieve in either code.

    That at least was the AFL’s pitch – that extending his CV with success in their arena would see SBW regarded as the greatest sporting all-rounder the Australasian region has ever seen. The Giants will be real prospects by 2016, and Williams’ magic touch might just help them make history.

    For his part, Williams has always made a point of calling himself an athlete, not a rugby player. His desire to prove himself, allied with Nasser’s desire for currency, has seen Williams code-swap between the two forms of rugby since 2008, while also finding time for six heavyweight boxing bouts.

    Adjusting to Australian Rules, however, is much more complicated, as Israel Folau learnt to his cost. Former GWS coach Kevin Sheedy backed Williams on Melbourne breakfast radio this morning, but said that a position up forward might be too steep a learning curve.

    “I’d get him in the centre,” said Sheedy. “Huge bloke but he’s got beautiful hands. Get someone his size coming through at the bounce, laying tackles or running the ball out, and you’ll have the rest getting out of his way.”

    Current Giants coach Leon Cameron was less excitable, denying all knowledge on arriving at the club today.

    “Nothing at all,” he said. “I don’t know who might talk to who when I’m not there, but we’ve got a very good list and we’re very happy to be developing it.”

    Even if the experiment is as unsuccessful as Folau’s, the attention it would bring would be more than worth the price. Cashing in on that value may have started today, with the leak possibly coming from the AFL to distract from the Essendon drugs saga, or from Nasser to drive up the asking price.

    Neither party has yet been available for comment, with only Demetriou’s deputy Gilllon McLachlan offering a cryptic response at a general press briefing.

    “I can’t speak to every conversation Andrew may or may not have. Andrew has a lot of conversations with a lot of people, and any conversations any of us have are in the best interests of the game.”

    Thanks for enjoying this year’s April fools posts. It’s been great to hear the love (and hate) about our efforts this year. Tune in next year for another instalment.

    Geoff Lemon
    Geoff Lemon

    Geoff Lemon is a writer, editor and broadcaster covering sport for The Roar, The Guardian and ABC, as well as writing on politics, literature and history for a range of outlets.

    He tweets from @GeoffLemonSport.