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Is SBW really the best on the planet?

Will the Roosters go back-to-back in 2014? (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
Roar Pro
3rd December, 2013
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2164 Reads

Sonny Bill Williams, the man simply known by his initials, is the most polarising sportsperson in Australasia.

Love him or loathe him you cannot deny the fact he is a tremendous athlete in either code, but it has become apparent after only one year back in the game, that he was born to play rugby league.

This was confirmed when he beat out the exceptional Greg Inglis in winning the RLIF International Player of the Year title in Manchester, England last week.

Williams capped off a memorable return year to the sport in which he made his name, with the worst possible result, a 34-2 thumping at the hands of the Kangaroos in last weekend’s rugby league World Cup final.

Although 2013 ended in this most embarrassing fashion, few would argue with the fact that his return to rugby league after a five-year absence has been a resounding success.

After initial rustiness in his first game he began to get a feel for it again and within a month he had, quite remarkably, regained his crown as the premier second rower in the competition.

For him to play at the level he did, after such a long time out of the game was nothing short of extraordinary.

Williams returned to the NRL this year after he stood by a handshake agreement made with Sydney Roosters supremo Nick Politis during his time in rugby union.

Politis put it to SBW that should he return to his first love, it would be with the Bondi-based club.

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Although Sonny Bill regarded himself as a rugby player and had no intentions to return to league, he somewhat ironically said he was a man of his word and honoured the agreement.

Of course I say ironically as a reference to his well-publicised walk out on his old club the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, midway through 2008 to take up a rugby contract in France at Toulon.

Many believed he had an unfulfilled legacy in league and he couldn’t be regarded as a great of the game as he hadn’t been a major part of a premiership winning team.

This was put to bed this year and he can now return to union in 2015 having firmly established his mark in over 100 first grade games.

This year was easily Williams best in either code of football, he won a premiership in which he was hugely influential both on and off the field, was named the best player in the game and played in a World Cup final (even if he was somewhat out of sorts in a team that was completely outplayed.)

There have been arguments since this game that Sonny Bill Williams was shown up for what he really is in the World Cup final.

Many pundits have noted that Sonny Bill was not even in the top five players on the field let alone the number one player on the planet.

They point to the fact that at the Dally M awards earlier this year he didn’t poll in the best eighteen players and wasn’t even named as second rower of the year, an award which went to his Roosters teammate Boyd Cordner.

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It’s a fair argument however it must be pointed out that the Dally M’s are run by a certain Australian media outlet, who maybe didn’t want to be seen awarding a player whose loyalty to the game has been questioned. It was widely believed Williams would return to union but has since re-signed for 2014.

Also this same media outlet has a significant interest in the NRL and may not have forgiven Williams for the past in which he was said to have ‘disgraced’ the game.

This can be the only excuse as to why he didn’t poll highly, as a blind man could tell he was at the very least the best second rower going around in the competition this year.

This wrong was righted last week when he was named the best player in the world by leading journalists, administrators as well as former players and coaches from around the world.

The fact is Williams has come back a more complete player.

He was able to hone his passing game, which he showed on numerous occasions throughout the season. Displaying the type of pin-point passes that Andrew Johns would have been proud of.

His offload game became more refined, knowing when and when not to pop the ball around the corner, a craft he mastered under the tutelage of the Chiefs Super Rugby coaches.

These new assets added to the skill set that he already possessed meant the Sonny Bill Williams of 2013 became a greater force than the 2008 version.

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Perhaps the most poignant moment of the year for Sonny Bill was the round six clash against his old team the Bulldogs.

This was the most anticipated game of the season, with Channel Nine (the main broadcaster in Australia) running promos all week with Williams as the face.
Many Bulldogs supporters had not forgiven Sonny Bill for how he left their club, maybe rightfully so.

For this reason there were extra security employed due to fears for his safety.

Though, ultimately it was Sonny Bill Williams who would have the final say.

In the ninth minute with his first touch of the football, as boos from the Canterbury faithful resounded around ANZ Stadium, Williams threw a sublime cut-out pass to boom Roosters wing Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who duly dotted down in the corner.

It’s safe to say he silenced the crowd with this single act of brilliance.

It was this moment that summed up Sonny Bill’s return to rugby league.

He has silenced many detractors, as well as gaining more admirers. Not only for the way he plays on the field, but for his preparation and the way he carriers himself off the field. He has influenced a lot of his teammates into preparing in the same way.

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Of course he will always have his critics for some decisions he has made, like his boxing circus or more recently making himself available for the Kiwis only after the team had been named.

However what most cannot refute is his transcendent ability on a football field.

The fact the Kiwis lost the World Cup final to a red-hot, ruthless Kangaroos side should not diminish the achievements in 2013 of the world’s best rugby league player, Sonny Bill Williams.