”I am pretty driven and I have a few tough decisions ahead, but I am just savouring the moment for a while:” Sonny Bill Williams. Photo: Jonathan CarrollPaul Cully: Why Sonny Bill Williams should turn his back on league
Being once considered the NRL’s public enemy No.1 helped Sonny Bill Williams develop the mental toughness that enabled him to overcome a mistake-riddled first half and produce the match-turning plays for Sydney Roosters in Sunday’s grand final defeat of Manly.
Williams, who had helped the Bulldogs to a premiership win over the Roosters in 2004, was still in a euphoric state as he celebrated his latest triumph with a family barbecue on Monday afternoon. While the league and union worlds wait to learn where he will play next season, Williams is likely to be weighing up which code can offer him the greatest challenge as 2014 is like a ”gap year” before the Rugby World Cup in 2015 and 2016 Olympic Games for a player who has already won a Super Rugby title and a second NRL premiership.
”I am pretty driven and I have a few tough decisions ahead, but I am just savouring the moment for a while,” Williams said.
But no decision will be as tough as the one he made to quit the Bulldogs in 2008 without telling anyone and moving to France to play rugby union. What the then 22-year-old endured as he was pursued at airports in Singapore and London by reporters and subpoena servers engaged by Canterbury and the NRL en route to Toulon helped Williams develop a mental toughness only the best athletes possess.
Voted Australia’s most-hated man ahead of Osama bin Laden in a magazine poll, he had to learn a new code in a new country, while dealing with injuries and self-doubts that prompted him to tell then All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith in 2009 that he didn’t believe he’d be good enough to make the 2011 World Cup team.
A year later, Williams turned his back on a $6 million, three-year deal to stay at Toulon and represent France to return to New Zealand and pursue his goal of a place in the All Blacks team.
Williams told Fairfax Media he drew on his experiences since leaving the Bulldogs for the inspiration to help set up the two tries in Sunday’s grand final that put the Roosters in the lead and sealed their first premiership since 2002. ”The walk that I have walked, that is what I go back to when I am in tough situations,” Williams said. ”At half-time, I just thought of that. I am pretty confident in my own ability and what I can do now, and how I can contribute. I was pretty disappointed after that first half but that is when mental strength comes in.
”Winning the grand final was definitely a dream come true. This is just so much more sweeter than 2004 because after five years I had forgotten how tough this competition was. It’s just so sweet looking down on this [premiership] ring.”
After ending a self-imposed media ban, Williams opened up during interviews on Sunday night and was the last player to leave the Roosters’ dressing room before the whole team and staff walked to the centre of ANZ Stadium at about 11.30pm.
Now a devout Muslim, Williams told reporters he had benefited from a change of lifestyle after leaving the Bulldogs. ”I never touched alcohol until I made first grade,” he said. ”I lost my way for a couple of years there but I’m proud to say I’m proud of the man I see in the mirror.
”I guess, looking back, I went through embarrassing times. I’ve got to take accountability for my actions. But I feel confident as a man, as a person that I represent my family as I was brought up to.”
Whether Williams remains in the code next season remains to be seen, as each year since joining Toulon he has moved on and the only new challenge the NRL could offer him now would be the opportunity to play State of Origin for NSW.
Williams is keen to help the All Blacks secure their first world cup on foreign soil in 2015 and win an Olympic gold medal in rugby sevens at the Rio Games.
But rugby union offers nothing next season that he hasn’t done before, and Williams said he loved the ”brotherhood” at the Roosters as much as the environment at the Chiefs last year.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.