Sonny Bill Williams' walk-out on Canterbury was one of the more treacherous acts in Australian sporting history
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Will SBW fire for the Roosters?
In his stint with Canterbury from 2004 through to 2008, Sonny Bill Williams showed himself to be one of the most talented forwards to ever play rugby league. He provided an X-factor for the Bulldogs when they surged to the title in 2004, and continued to develop as a superstar of the game before his well-documented walkout on the club. His offloading ability was freakish – a number of players could have their hands on him but it wouldn't stop him from getting the ball away, whether he was standing up or on his way down in a tackle. His shoulder charge was his signature play, and would often change the momentum of matches. Unfortunately for the Roosters, they won't see the benefit of this, given the tackle is now illegal.
Williams has been playing rugby union for the last four and a half years, and will only join the Roosters in February before the season starts in March. For most players changing codes, time out of the game, together with no pre-season of preparation, would be serious hurdles to overcome. But for a natural athlete like Sonny Bill, for whom fitness is no issue, coming back and excelling shouldn't be a problem.
However, while we're expecting Williams to perform for the Roosters, the bigger question is can his contribution have a significant impact on the fortunes of his team? He was the star for the Bulldogs in 2008 before he walked out on them, but that year they finished with the wooden spoon. The following year without him, they got within a game of the grand final. To be fair, Canterbury struggled initially without him in the latter stages of 2008, but their quick turnaround in '09 suggested his absence didn't hinder them for long.
That's not bringing Williams' playing ability under question. The reality is there are great players of the Andrew Johns calibre, who have a huge impact on their team's performance, and there are others of similar brilliance who play well, but their team doesn't necessarily see the benefit of that on the scoreboard. Williams probably falls into the latter category.
We're tipping he won't have the same individual impact on the Roosters as Johnathan Thurston has on the Cowboys, or Benji Marshall has on the Tigers, for example.
Does the game need Sonny Bill Williams?
Williams showed the NRL ultimate disrespect when he walked out on Canterbury in 2008 to go and play rugby union in France – not even 12 months into his five-year deal with the Bulldogs. It was one of the more treacherous acts in Australian sporting history.
No doubt having Williams back in the game will add interest, particularly on the two occasions in 2013 that the Roosters will play the Bulldogs, in what will be the mother of all grudge matches in front of packed crowds.
NRL television rights holders Channel Nine and Fox Sports will also be salivating at SBW's return, given it's likely to boost ratings for matches he's involved in. Likewise, the Roosters will receive a membership and merchandise sale surge as a result of their star signing.
However, the right decision isn't always the most financially profitable one. Given Williams' messy Canterbury departure, that he had little to no remorse for his actions, and that he displayed enough arrogance at his press conference to show he was unenthusiastic about his rugby league return should have led to the NRL's refusal to register his contract.
The game is in solid health, with or without SBW. And given his attitudes and actions towards it, it's certainly not a necessity for him to be part of it.
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.
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