Do you remember the first time you heard what had happened? It was a fantastic story. The type of story I’m sure you didn’t believe until you watched the news that night. The Canterbury Bulldogs poster boy and one of the biggest named in the NRL had got on a plane and left for France, walking out on his clubs and his fans in a move motivated by money and nothing more.
At the time, Sonny Bill Williams Rugby League career was only really just starting. He was not long off of having signed the first big contract of his career, a long term deal with the Bulldogs. At the time there was talk that the club has concerns over a potential long term knee injury some believed would become more of a problem as time went on, but the commitment was in place and Sonny Bill looked like being a Bulldog for life.
A plane trip to France, outrage, and a few weeks later Sonny Bill Williams was a Rugby Union player. To this day he has never played Rugby League again…
Now, Sonny Bill Williams is in what should be the prime of his career. Having easily stepped into Rugby Union and dominated at every level, Williams supposedly has come back to fulfill a commitment to play for the Roosters for one season because he is a man of his word.
So how will this play out? How will Sonny Bill Williams first season back playing Rugby League go?
No player that has ever left to play Rugby Union has ever come back and played at the same level they previously played at in the NRL. Every player that has made the switch back has looked slower, not as sharp, and slightly off the pace.
When Sonny Bill Williams left the NRL playing in the forwards was a very different prospect to what we see today. Forwards in 2013 are bigger, stronger and faster. The collisions are bigger across the board and the amazing thing is that we are seeing forwards over 115 kilograms that are as athletic and most backs.
When Williams last played Rugby League, injuries plagued his career. I said at the time that I didn’t believe he had the frame to be playing in the forwards. I felt as though he should have been played out in the centers so that his fragile body was not taking a constant battering. He comes back now as a forward, and I wonder how his body will hold up to the wars we see on the NRL field every weekend.
He is already carrying injury. There is still talk he will miss the first game of the season. Picture of him training have seen him running around with strapping on his knee, a real concern for anyone that wants to see him play more than a handful of games this season.
I think early on Sonny Bill Williams is going to look a little out of place on the Rugby League field. I think we will see teams target him in defense and testing out his instincts at the very least. Sonny Bill Williams will be looking to step back in and make an impact, and I think we will see him drawn in by clever dummy halves and forwards who will take advantage of the fact that he has not faced a decent attacking side or played in any sort of solid defensive lineup for years now.
I fully expect Sonny Bill Williams entire season to be impacted by injury. If he didn’t play more than ten games, it wouldn’t surprise me. Williams will have a huge target on his chest and every forward in the competition will be looking to belt him. That will take its toll.
The thing no one is talking about right now is the fact that at some point the SBW circus will ramp up again as he looks for his next pay day. It wouldn’t surprise me if he has already signed his next contract to play elsewhere, but we won’t hear about that for a while. The Roosters will no doubt look to keep him, and if they can, I think they should. I’m sure they will make their money back on marketing alone. I’m also sure that Channel 9 will look to step in and make it hard for him to walk away from the NRL once more, after all, he will draw in the ratings.
Will the addition of Sonny Bill Williams help the Roosters? I don’t think it will as much as most people think. I still worry about their forwards. I also think his injury problems will become a distraction. Will the Roosters win the premiership? No, I don’t think so.
Right now there is talk that Samoa and New Zealand will both try to get Sonny Bill Williams to play in the Rugby League World Cup at seasons end. I doubt that will happen. There is no money for him to make playing in the World Cup. I’ve said before that I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Sonny Bill Williams playing Rugby Union while the World Cup is being played.
Overall I think the Sonny Bill Williams experience will be one punctuated by hype, injuries, controversy and at the end of the day he will leave the Roosters abruptly to go and play Rugby Union and continue boxing.
I will be watching on for the entertainment value. It will all be part of the soap opera that Rugby League is famous for. Like any good soap opera, you need your hero’s and your villains. Forget football, just on the entertainment value alone Sonny Bill Williams return will be worth it.