Sonny Bill Williams. The mega-star, the icon, the sensation and many other fortuitous names come to mind when you hear his name. The athlete that is better known as ‘SBW’.
Amidst all the wonderful names people tend to surround Sonny with, one tends to lead to sour thoughts among many All Black fans, ‘Money’ Bill Williams.
Although his talent is undeniable, given his resume of what he has already achieved in his career, many people tend to question his loyalty and ulterior motives in regards to his selection of teams to represent.
In 2012, when he announced his departure from New Zealand rugby union to the lures of the NRL, many people believed he would return the following year to set himself up for an opportunity to fight for a 2015 World Cup spot. At the end of 2013, he announced he would stay on in Australia for a further year, copping criticism from many Kiwi journalists and fans.
His loyalty was questioned, and the question remained, ‘Can Sonny make the World Cup squad with only one year back in Rugby?’
Fast forward to August 25, 2014. The All Blacks are fresh off an annihilating performance of the Wallabies, sending a huge message to world rugby that they were indeed the team to chase.
Incumbent second five-eighth, Ma’a Nonu, who wasn’t available due to injury, was replaced by Ryan Crotty. Prior to this game, in the first Bledisloe Cup Test a week earlier, veteran centre Conrad Smith was forced to miss the Test, and was replaced by Malakai Fekitoa. Both players proved they were ready for international rugby.
The questions keep arising for Sonny, ‘Where exactly does Sonny fit in among the All Blacks’ squad?’ My answer? There just isn’t anywhere for him.
New Zealand Rugby Union CEO Steve Tew came out with a statement on Monday stating that Sonny didn’t need to play a minute of the ITM Cup, and that he was available for selection for the Europe End of Year Tour, if the coaches selected him.
Given his name and his stature, I do believe they will select him. But what exactly has he done to warrant his selection?
There are young players in New Zealand who play for peanuts, sweat blood for their country and have aspirations to represent the All Blacks, but just never get selected. In walks Sonny (whose interest is questionable) in which they allow him to walk right back into the world-class side that is the All Blacks – for literally nothing.
Players like Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa, Francis Sa’ili and many more upcoming players, work their tails off to achieve the ultimate goal, which is obtaining a black jersey. They stay loyal to New Zealand rugby union, and never put a foot wrong – but they will still be overlooked by selectors for Sonny.
In my opinion, if Sonny Bill were to walk into the frame for selection at this present time, he would sit fifth for the two starting midfield positions, behind Nonu and Smith, Crotty and Fekitoa.
If the incumbents (Nonu and Smith) were both injured, I would still start Crotty and Fekitoa over Sonny. He has more natural talent then all four of them, but put him directly into rugby in its current state, and I strongly believe these four players would outshine even the great Sonny Bill Williams.
Don’t mistake this for hating, I marvel at Sonny’s talent just as much as the next person. I make efforts to watch any team he plays for just to watch if achieves the impossible play, so I don’t miss out on any magic he may produce.
In regards to this subject, I believe him not returning for 2014 has him stuck in a tight spot, giving him only one full season to make a serious push for a World Cup spot. I believe it has dented his chances, and given his issues (loyalty and interest) in representing New Zealand, I think it’s only right he works his way into the squad, rather than walking into it.
Take into accordance what he is doing for rugby league in the NRL. The NRL use him to market the code, and in doing so he is proving his worth in that regard. He is playing top-notch footy and for the defending premieres. Australia love him (as do Kiwis), and they hinge onto anything with Sonny on it. He is the marquee player for their code, so why leave it? Why leave a code where you are a certified star, to a code where you may just barely make the final 22?
At the end of the day, he is a supreme talent and I do believe he will be selected much to a lot of All Blacks supporters’ dismay. But what New Zealand has is a production line stronger than any other country in regards to rugby. Don’t look to superstars to fill in the gaps, use the talented players already in the system who have proven themselves time and time again.
If Sonny does make the World Cup squad, however, I see him being the bench cover for Ma’a Monu, as he is light-years ahead of him in any rugby sense for the second five-eighth position.