The recent news relating to Sonny Bill Williams impending return to Rugby League in 2013 has created an enormous amount of discussion during this off season, and has polarised opinion on whether or not he deserves the chance to return to the NRL after the acrimonious way in which he left the game back in 2008.
For those who don't know, Sonny Bill Williams burst onto the rugby league scene as a tall, skillful and hard running back rower at the age of 18 in 2004. He played most of the season in first grade and finished his rookie year with a premiership trophy. He then became the youngest man ever to play International Rugby League for New Zealand later that same year. He missed most of 2005 with a knee injury but came back strong in 2006 and 2007, before breaking his arm in a semi final against Parramatta in late 2007, causing him to miss the Tri-Nations series that year. Then, in July 2008 he walked out of the Bulldogs 18 months into a 5 year contract. He had been offered reportedly 4 times the amount he was on at the Bulldogs to play Rugby Union in France with Toulon.
So ended the love affair between Rugby League and SBW. He had aligned himself with Anthony Mundine and his management, who had long been on the nose of rugby league fans, and had converted to Islam, much to the chagrin of his coach, teammates and certainly a lot of the fans according to Sonny. The Bulldogs negotiated a transfer fee from Toulon Rugby Club, Sonny paid a sum of money back to the Bulldogs and he was free to leave on the condition he could not play for another rugby league club anywhere in the world until 2013. He became one of the most reviled and vilified people in the game.
Now as 2013 draws nearer, rugby league fans are split as to whether SBW deserves the chance to return to the game. The CEO of Rugby League, David Gallop has requested an audience with SBW to demand an undertaking not to leave the game again. The main argument against his return was that he broke a contract, and was disloyal the game itself, to his club, his teammates and the fans. All valid but are they enough to keep him out of the game forever? I argue only his disloyalty to the fans as being of major importance. Clubs whining about players showing loyalty should have a good look at themselves. All clubs are guilty of sending contracted players packing once they are deemed to be past their use by date. Players are commodities today and clubs know it. Most players are loyal until the point they are offered more money to ply their trade elsewhere and who can blame them? Gone are the days when working men played football. Footballers are working men. It's just now their job is playing football. Only fans are truly loyal, and as a fan I feel the pain of losing a player I love to another team but you get over it, boo them incessantly whenever you can and find another player to love. Only to be heartbroken again down the track. But no matter what happens I am always loyal to the club. No individual rates higher than the club.
We all have made decisions when we were younger that we ultimately regretted, or at least thought, "maybe I could have handled that better.." SBW is guilty of breaking a contract for the opportunity to earn more money elsewhere. He's not the first person to do it and surely won't be the last. In fact, not long after SBW absconded to France, Mark Gasnier announced he was leaving St George before the end of his contract to earn more money playing Rugby Union in France. Exactly what SBW was doing but the difference being mainly that Gasnier worked it out with his club and stuck out the season. He handled it maturely and behind closed doors before going public. Gasnier spent a little under 2 seasons in France, then returning to St George before retiring completely at the end of the season.
Mark Gasnier was welcomed back with open arms, so why can't SBW?? Is it due to the way he left, like a thief in the night, or is it more to do with his connections with Anthony Mundine and his conversion to Islam that prevents people from forgiving him?? Yes he broke a contract and left the game in a poor fashion, but he was only 22 years old at the time, and anybody can be susceptible to bad or rash decisions at that age. Surely he deserves another chance to resume his rugby league career after he has served his time out of the game? He hasn't shown any more disloyalty to the game itself than Mark Gasnier, or even Mal Meninga, an absolute icon of Rugby League who once famously stated, "What has rugby league ever done for me??" Both of these men continued to achieve at high levels in the game. Wendell Sailor left League for Union, tested positive to drugs whilst there, then returned to League after serving his time and enjoyed the support of most fans and the games heirachy itself. Did he damage the game or show disloyalty? What SBW did was morally wrong but he hasn't committed any atrocities has he?
I admit my interest in this is due to the fact he is being connected with the club I support, but I would feel the same way no matter what club he was being linked to.
I remember SBW being the most dominant forward in Rugby League before he left. When he returns he'll be 27, barely knocked around from his years in RU and at the peak of his powers. If he wants to go boxing this year he can do that too. I hope he does come to the Roosters. I say pay him what he wants, he'll be a huge asset for at least one year, bringing in more fans, particularly young fans and females. Use him to promote good health and lifestyle. Then if he fails, like Willie Mason did, I will move on as a fan and support and cheer the next overpaid Superstar my club chooses to purchase, and boo SBW like I'll boo Todd Carney next year...