Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Dana Johannsen: SBW needs to stay put to really shine

Sonny Bill Williams is to make his NRL comeback with the Sydney Roosters tonight. Photo / Dean Purcell
Sonny Bill Williams is to make his NRL comeback with the Sydney Roosters tonight. Photo / Dean Purcell

For a player that was once held in about the same esteem as boutique beers and Pol Pot in the eyes of league fans, there has been a barrage of favourable publicity to trumpet the return of Sonny Bill Williams.

League's prodigal son is poised to make his NRL comeback tonight, when his Sydney Roosters side take on the South Sydney Rabbitohs (could there be two less intimidating animals as team names?) in the season-opener. With a pectoral injury hampering him for much of the pre-season, there's no guarantee Williams will take the field, but for now he has been named on an extended bench to keep the game's marketers happy and those ticket sales ticking over.

The Roosters are on track for a sell-out crowd at Allianz Stadium tonight as the hype around SBW's return has built steadily over the past month.

Williams and his musculature is the star of a channel nine ad promoting the opening round of action. The ad features a shirtless Williams staring into the camera and the words "SBW OMG", appealing to league fans with vernacular which is popular with 14-year-old girls.

I'm pretty sure Bulldogs fans will be thinking something more along the lines of SBW WTF?

But it seems the NRL, the same organisation that threatened to ban Williams for life when he walked out on his club and the game five years ago, has welcomed the superstar back with open arms.

The Roosters chairman Nick Politis believes Williams could be the new "poster boy" of the sport, while Phil Gould has penned a column for a Sydney newspaper entitled "Why I'm welcoming SBW back into the NRL".

It's not surprising really. They, like everyone else, are blinded by the dollar signs generated by the Sonny Bill brand.

The NRL marketing boffins have attempted to quantify the pulling power of Williams, estimating the former All Black will increase the average crowd at Roosters matches by 6000, netting clubs millions of dollars over the course of the season.

Indeed the Warriors are hoping to capitalise on the Kiwi superstar's first game in Auckland, scheduling their round two clash against the Roosters at Eden Park, where they are expecting around 40,000 fans to pile into the ground.

In spite of the over the top fanfare and hype around SBW, I'm just a little bit excited about Williams' return to the NRL.

When he walked out on the Bulldogs in 2008 it just seemed a dreadful waste of his immense talent. While he eventually made a decent fist of it in rugby, it is in league where SBW's talents really shine.

If he stays put in league long enough, and resists the temptation to chase further dollars overseas , he has the chance to establish himself as one of the game's greats.

Then he would really be something to OMG about.

- NZ Herald

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Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Dana has more than a decade's experience in sports journalism, joining the Herald in 2007 following stints with TVNZ and RadioSport. Over that time Dana has covered several major events including the 2011 Netball World Cup in Singapore, 2011 Rugby World Cup, 2012-13 Volvo Ocean Race, and the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco. A multi-award winning journalist, Dana was named New Zealand Sports Journalist of the Year in 2012 after scooping both the news and feature categories at the TP McLean Awards. The previous year she picked up the prize for best news break. She was also an inaugural recipient of the Sir John Wells scholarship at the 2009 NZSJA awards. Dana also writes a weekly sports column for the NZ Herald.

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