Let the game begin: For Sonny Bill Williams, Friday’s match against former club, the Bulldogs, is ‘‘just another game’’. Photo: James Brickwood SBW
As he prepares to face the Bulldogs for the first time since walking out on the club five years ago, Sonny Bill Williams insists he wouldn’t change the past but the Roosters superstar wishes he was starting his NRL career again.
Amid all the hype for the most anticipated clash of the season, Williams said it “just feels like another game” to him and he was bemused by suggestions extra security was needed at Allianz Stadium for his protection from hostile Canterbury supporters.
“I understand that some [Bulldogs] fans might be upset, but I have always had a good relationship with most of the fans and for some people to say that I need security, I find a bit of a joke,” Williams said.
The 27-year-old dual international said his decision to quit Canterbury had nothing to do with the club’s fans or his teammates at the time – of whom none remain.
“I have said all along that I never had a problem with any players; it was just some of the people who were in power at the time,” he said.
However, Williams has previously spoken about the drinking culture and peer pressure that existed at the Bulldogs when he was playing, and he said that had now changed across the game.
“One of the things that I have noticed since being back is that from the young boys to the old fellows everyone is a lot more professional,” he said. “I don’t know if it is because the young guys are coming through the under-20s but everyone is clued up on what to eat, what to do recovery-wise and all of that kind of stuff.
“Another thing I have noticed, which is good for the game, is that the drinking culture, which was about playing hard and drinking harder off the field, has pretty much been washed out.
“I wish it was like that when I was coming through because I never drank until I actually made first grade.
“I wouldn’t change anything I have done because it has made me who I am, but in that sense I wish I was 18 now and starting my first-grade career because it is not frowned upon if you are your own person – if you like to be a lot more professional and things like that.”
Speak to anyone at the Roosters – from the management to the coaching staff to the players – and they will tell you Williams is the ultimate professional.
When assistant coach Jason Taylor addressed the squad at a meeting before the start of the season, Williams kept notes of what he said – something the former Parramatta and South Sydney coach had not seen any NRL player do.
“I got that from rugby because there are so many different aspects of the game that you have to know and I reckon that is why I got to understand it,” Williams said.
“I find that if I write down a heap of things when we are talking at meetings I can go back and take out the things I need.
“But league is not an overly complicated game to be honest and I am a bit embarrassed to take my pen and notepad into the meetings.
“So I just try to be really attentive and take out the few key things that they say in video and I go back and write it down when I get home.”
Williams, who said he had a set routine about what he eats is also one of the last out of the Roosters dressing room after training or a match due to a strict stretching routine.
Having only signed for one season at a time since paying the Bulldogs $750,000 in 2008 to release him from the remaining four years of his contract, Williams needs to take care of his body.
“I guess that keeps you on your toes having to do that because it can get a bit repetitive having to stretch at night, have cold showers in the morning, do the ice baths, go for swims,” he said.
“Also being injured a lot in my younger days has helped as well. In 2005, I was injured for pretty much the whole year and in 2006 I played but I didn’t really give myself a fair chance. I just kind of got by on my natural ability.
“In 2007, I really wanted to concentrate on my body, eat well, stretch and get a lot more professional, and I just started playing really, really well that year.”
Before the end of the following season, Williams was gone and he has since had stints playing rugby union in France, New Zealand and Japan – winning a World Cup and a Super Rugby title.
He also holds the New Zealand and WBA international heavyweight boxing titles.
In comparison to some of those experiences, Williams said playing against his former club for the first time was nothing out of the ordinary, although he knows time hasn’t healed the wounds for everyone at the Bulldogs.
“To me, it just feels like another game,” he said. “I have never played with any of these guys, none of them were at the Dogs when I was there.
“Yeah, we used to sit there and watch Ben Barba score three tries for the under-20s, and I think Josh Reynolds was running around with the young fellows back then.
“But none of the guys I played with or the coaching staff are still there so it is just feels like another game. I can understand that there are some diehard supporters who will never let it go but what can I do?
“I have already said in numerous interviews it was never about the fans and it was never about the players. I can sit here and say I would have done things different if I had my time over but what is done is done, and I don’t have to answer to anyone in this world but Allah or God.”
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