Hugh McGahan is a former Kiwis player and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Hugh McGahan: Star signing represents quite a coup for Roosters and NRL

Sonny Bill Williams. Photo / Getty Images
Sonny Bill Williams. Photo / Getty Images

Well, what a week in the life of rugby league: first the spectacle of the grand final, then the Kiwi World Cup team announcement without Sonny Bill Williams, then his back flip on wanting to play and the fallout with Tohu Harris.

From hero to villain to hero again, depending on your perspective, but the power of the SBW brand is undeniable.

His re-signing with rugby league is a win the NRL was desperate for.

They have changed the rules to keep Williams in the sport and it needed to happen.

The loss of Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau to the AFL, with the latter later going into rugby union, has impacted on the NRL.

They have been too arrogant to admit it and too stubborn to concede they needed to halt the migration.

It was long thought by the hierarchy that there would always be someone to fill the boots of those who leave.

But the recent rise of the Greater Western Sydney AFL franchise and improving attendances for Super Rugby fixtures has sparked the NRL to consider their market share.

What finally slapped the NRL in the face, after years of egotistical blindness, were the Western Sydney Wanderers A-League football team and the arrival of Alessandro Del Piero at Sydney FC. The skill and presence of Del Piero saw what a superstar can do in terms of spectators, image and marketing.

The success of the Wanderers drew enormous crowds to Parramatta Stadium. The full house sign was posted throughout the season, while the Parramatta Eels were a shadow of their former selves; we all know how they have performed in recent seasons.

It dawned on the NRL and reluctantly they admitted there was a problem. They were losing the battle and they needed superstars.

John Grant and his Commission knew memberships and attendances were falling spectacularly and rectifying the situation was critical.

CEO David Smith was appointed and clubs were directed into recruitment drives for memberships; some clubs had already taken that initiative. The main priority has been to retain the best players, and SBW was the target.

The Roosters have worked tirelessly to keep him at the club and in the game. There have been many who thought these attempts would be in vain.

Despite the power and influence of Roosters chairman Nick Politis, I never believed it was possible and thought it a forsaken task.

To everyone's surprise, the biggest name in sport, in this part of the world at least, has gone against all predictions and signed for another term at the Roosters.

This is the start of the NRL being proactive in the retention of their big names and their desire to be a truly national sport in Australia.

Start looking at your product without the conceited pair of glasses you have been wearing; take other codes seriously and remember to factor New Zealand rugby league into your thinking.

- Herald on Sunday

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Hugh McGahan is a former Kiwis player and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Hugh Joseph McGahan MBE was a renowned rugby league player and coach who represented New Zealand in no less than 53 test matches, captaining 17 of them. Beginning his career in Auckland he later moved to Sydney where he played over 100 matches for the Roosters, finishing his career in 1991 as captain-coach of the eastern Sydney outfit. Accolades were never far away from the impressive Kiwi lock and in 1987 McGahan jointly won the prestigious Golden Boot Award, the first row forward at the time to win the award. Hugh McGahan’s international career was similarly impressive coming to the fore in 1982 after scoring a remarkable six tries for the Kiwis against Papua New Guinea in Auckland. Hugh Mcgahan ended his career with distinguished honours as he was awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to rugby and later inducted into the NZRL Legends of League. He continues to write sports columns for the New Zealand Herald.

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