Any objective sports journalist will say they cheer not for players and teams but for the story.

And that's certainly true for this correspondent, who in the past week has rooted for the Lions to beat the All Blacks, purely for the sake of the series, and for Oracle to threaten an America's Cup comeback, purely for comedic purposes.

But now those high crimes have been confessed, I must additionally admit one contravention to the basic journalistic tenet of impartiality: I always cheer for Sonny Bill Williams.

On the field, I cheer for the physicality with which he tackles and the flair with which he offloads.


Off the field, I applaud the fact he's a dedicated father, a devout Muslim, and an example of professionalism his teammates now follow.

I love that he's unique, a point of difference in a sporting landscape featuring so many players who, while sure to show their personality in private, resemble mindless clones in public.

And I love that, in some quarters, he remains strangely unloved. While I'm far from alone as an SBW fan, his singular combination of qualities has made Williams the target of derision and sparked attempts to minimise his accomplishments, as New Zealanders are wont to do.

For all those accomplishments, the idea persists that he's a showpony, due to how often he finds the spotlight, or a renegade, due to the temerity he displayed following his sporting dream across codes.

Which means it's still contentious to say Williams is underrated. And it's still controversial to suggest he's the most talented athlete this country has produced in recent memory, a debate that in my mind is unarguable.

Setting aside his boxing ability -- the extent of which we'll never know -- becoming one of the world's best in two sports is an incredible achievement.

The codes of rugby and league may be closely aligned but there's a countless supply of failed converts to explain the difficulty of such a task.

Yet beyond his performances for the Kiwis and All Blacks, the main reason I cheer for Williams is his exploits outside the lines, the latest example coming after the All Blacks' win over the Lions last weekend, when he gave his shorts and socks to a young Lions fan in the stands.


Those selfless deeds can still make the cynical roll their eyes, suggesting Williams' chief talent is making every moment about himself, but away from the headline-grabbing incidents, his generous nature is captured on social media.

Instead of the meaningless platitudes that appear almost automatically generated on his peers' accounts, Williams' Twitter feed illustrates his affection for his fans, friends and, especially, family.

It also, notably when Ramadan ended last week, demonstrates the depths of his faith. Which again, is another aspect of his life that sets Williams apart.

More and more, though, his teammates have been following the lead of SBW, not with regards to religion but certainly his dedication to health.

Williams is notoriously discerning with what goes into his body, eschewing alcohol altogether and dabbling in many different methods to ensure he's as equipped as possible to handle the rigours of sport at the highest level.

His work ethic has clearly inspired those around him, with teammate Israel Dagg describing Williams as "the ultimate professional", and it goes some way to explaining how he's flourished in multiple codes.

It also goes some way to explaining why Williams has attracted so many fans -- and a fair few detractors.

He's different in almost every move he makes and, while there will be dissenters, I think that's worth cheering for.