When Sonny Bill Williams walked out on the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2008, it was always going to take a lot to repair his reputation.
Williams dramatically walked away in the middle of a pay dispute when he was 18 months into a lucrative five-year deal without informing the NRL club, spotted at Sydney Airport bound for a flight to France to play rugby.
The strut through the airport stunk of a young man with more money than sense, who thought he was bigger than the game and could do what he wanted.
He still has his critics, there is no arguing that, but in terms of being a role model he has come a long way.
I was able to watch Williams play for Counties Manukau in Katikati on Saturday and while it was great to see him play, it was his actions after the game that stood out to me.
As expected, he was mobbed by fans who wanted selfies and autographs. It's something most professional athletes are used to but what stood out to me was the time he gave each person.
He chatted to kids as he signed their shirts, gave an elderly woman a hug she will never forget and joked along with the crowd. It took him half an hour to leave the field but the smile never faltered.
Williams hit out at the media last week on Twitter about the focus on him being under pressure to make the All Blacks. It may have been a little impulsive and immature but it was far from the worst you'll see on Twitter (Israel Folau comes to mind) and a real deviation from what he usually posts.
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Alhamdulillah good day with my Imaani & mum ❤️ good to confirm that imaan is scared of heights like her daddy. pic.twitter.com/2x8NXl25jt— Sonny Bill Williams (@SonnyBWilliams) August 5, 2019
I have no issue with his strong social media presence. Unless Williams is skipping rugby training to argue with keyboard warriors, go for gold.
A devout Muslim, Williams generally uses his immense popularity to spread messages of love, positivity and acceptance.
I am not a religious man but have always thought everyone should be able to believe what they want. If religion helps someone live with faith and purpose, as long as they are not condemning others for having different beliefs (again, Folau), then it can only be a good thing.
Williams is the perfect example. His Twitter feed is full of Muslim beliefs and messages but he is not concerned with whether you or I share the same beliefs. It is an approach to life that many of us could learn from.
Kiwis are shockers for tall poppy syndrome. You hear people saying they can't stand Williams because he is so arrogant. But is he? Or do we presume so because he is one of the most successful athletes we have seen?
Providing he is fit, I would love to see him in the All Blacks squad for the World Cup. He's the type of player who can change a game with one offload. Put simply, he is a winner, he has proven it before and, given the opportunity, I have no doubt he can do it again.