Catalans Dragons have been given the go-ahead to start preseason training but they will do so without Israel Folau and new signing Dean Whare.
February 3, 2020 was the first time in over six years that Sonny Bill Williams graced a rugby league field.
The biggest signing in Super League history certainly caught eyes these recent months, but did he live up to the hype following his debut for the Toronto Wolfpack and will he be able to cement his legacy as one of the game’s greats in his next two seasons?
His first appearance for the club didn’t go to plan, with the Wolfpack beaten comprehensively. His break from the game was noticeable too, with Williams struggling to find his rhythm in his 54 minutes on the field, dropping the ball twice in his first two hit-ups.
He did show glimpses of class, with a few trademark offloads and strong runs up the middle, and Wolfpack wingers Liam Kay and Hakim Miloudi scored two great tries.
His past two seasons with the Auckland Blues in Super Rugby were quiet by Williams’ standard, his performances leading to critics arguing against his selection for the All Blacks, which sparked debate as to which code and position suits him.
Throughout his seasons of Super Rugby, Williams played a few different positions, his preferred being inside centre. In the backline he has limited space and time to do what he is known for, as the game is centred around the forward pack and the breakdown.
When given room, he is up there with the most dangerous and devastating players in the game, showing incredible strength and a breathtaking offload. However, during his stint with the Blues, his options were closed off.
Sonny Bill is best equipped to a position where you can take the ball up into contact and drive the team forward. He rarely had this chance in union.
His rugby league positioning – in the forwards, generally second row – gives him much more freedom and opportunity to take the ball into contact and make valuable metres, which he did time and time again with both the Sydney Roosters and the Canterbury Bulldogs.
Playing in the second row also gives him an increased amount of time and space. This was extremely effective in his 2013 season with the Chooks, when he was a key member in the premiership win, averaging 23.67 tackles, 13.48 hits and 113.43 running metres per game. He was also extremely reliable, playing 21 of their 24 games.
Toronto’s form certainly hasn’t improved throughout the season, having lost all six games so far, although they have shown passages of good footy.
In a game against Warrington, the Wolfpack showed immense heart for a 35-minute period towards the end of the first half and beginning of the second half. They started to play free-flowing footy for the first time this season and clawed back from a 16-point deficit to a scoreline of 22-16 with 24 minutes to go.
Williams was back in the starting line-up for this match, after missing the previous game due to the birth of his fourth child. Being played at Warrington, there was a hostile crowd, eager to see both their side win and SBW perform poorly. Once again, he showed glances of positive footy, having taken the ball up into contact a number of times and performing a flick pass to set up a line-break.
The other giant Super League signing, Israel Folau, has had a much better start to the new chapter of his career, seeming to gel immediately with the Catalans Dragons.
The former Wallaby had a near-perfect start with the club, scoring a try in the sixth minute after a high-ball take in the Dragons’ 16-18 victory over Castleford.
In his next outing, against Hull, Folau struggled to make an impact for a majority of the first half. Hull dominated up the middle, resulting in a 28-4 scoreline with 28 minutes left. However, the Dragons began to build momentum, scoring three quick tries and with two minutes left in the game, Folau performed an excellent take under a short kick-off by James Maloney which lead to Catalans securing the game-winning score.
There is plenty of time left 2020 for Sonny Bill to perform with his new club and for Folau to continue his good form.
The rest of the season will give both players a chance to spend time with their teammates and gel together as a club, which takes time and will make their future seasons successful.