When it comes to hype around rugby league players over the past 106 years, it’s hard to argue that Sonny Bill Williams’ career hasn’t created the most.
The modern-day athlete and code-crossing superstar has gained more popularity in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia than any other athlete.
His headline moments have produced a spectrum of emotions for his millions of fans. But when Williams is gone, how will we remember him? How will rugby league fans remember him?
He came onto the scene as the gifted Bulldogs junior from New Zealand who astounded us with his big hits and ferocious style. We relished his shoulder charges, ability, good looks, charm and strength. It caught the attention of all sports fans across Australia.
He would go on and win a premiership off the bench for Canterbury, and was lauded by commentators as the best thing to happen to the game in many years and a sure superstar for the next decade.
But it was not to be.
We all know how he left the Dogs, went to French rugby and eventually flew back to New Zealand for a few years in Super Rugby. He succeed in union as many league players have before him. He won, along with many trophies, a new-legion of fans in En-Zed.
Nowadays, in his rare media appearances, Sonny Bill seems to display a ‘humility’ and ‘graciousness’ for his position in life and standing in the southern hemisphere sporting landscape. But he seems to make some rather bizarre decisions that give his profile and standing with the fans no lift.
For instance, why did he leave it until the eleventh hour to commit to the New Zealand Rugby League World Cup campaign last year? He reasoned that he hadn’t had a proper holiday in years and was going to skip the World Cup for a break, only to realise at the last minute he didn’t what to look back on his career and have any regrets.
It was his ‘brothers’ of kiwi compatriots that convinced him to jump on-board. His decisions led to Tohu Harris missing out after originally being selected.
This brings us to the Anzac Test match coming up this Friday and Sonny’s skip once again. Adter the World Cup, there was the scandal of the Kiwi team apparently mixing sleeping medication with energy drinks. This created a rift between Williams and the NZRL after he, and roommate Kieran Foran, were named in media as two who had ‘dabbled’ in such actions.
An official report cleared them, but the damage had already been done to his sensitive public relations.
For all that SBW has done in the game of rugby league, there seems to be more negative memories than those of achievement and good-will.
He always appears bigger than the game itself.
Wouldn’t one last run in the historic Anzac clash, wearing the black and white jumper with its proud fern above his heart, be a better way to be remembered than scooting off for an attempted honey-moon overseas?
Even better, wouldn’t a man of the match, team-leading and country-inspiring win over the dominating Australia give the fans a memory for years to come?
I would argue that his attempt to keep a low profile and stay out of the media have done the opposite and ensured his negative publicity have the light shun brighter upon.
He made mistakes as we all do. The league fraternity is one forgiving bunch, but we don’t cop blokes who think they are god’s greatest gift.
If you really were committed to New Zealand, you would be out there this Friday night representing your country and tearing the Australian forward pack apart.
You’ve missed the best opportunity you’ve had since your return to rugby league to let the memories of your past disappear from our minds.
You played an extraordinary role in the Roosters premiership last year, which many will fail to see the true scale of because you were playing for the Roosters.
Nothing is greater and more applauded in world sport than achieving success while representing your country.
You could have left us talking in our homes, pubs or at the ground about the great kiwi victory of 2014.
But it was not to be.