COMMENT

Written by Jack Tame for NewstalkZB

When Sonny Bill Williams subbed off on Friday night, he had a massive smile on his face.

He bowed a little to the Japanese crowd. At the end of the game, he brought his daughter onto the pitch. He walked over to the stands and gave a young boy his playing boots. And that was it. His time as an All Black was over.

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We focus on the code-hopping a lot, but even if you just look at Sonny Bill Williams' achievements in rugby – forget league and forget boxing - he has had an extraordinary career. He's a World Cup winner. An ITM Cup winner. A Super Rugby winner. He came runner up in the European championship. He's held the Ranfurly Shield. He's an Olympian.

And it's his time in rugby that has come to define Sonny Bill Williams as the professional athlete of the modern rugby age. If you think back to when he started his professional career, it could all have been so different.

Of course there was the fallout with league. The tabloid scandals. The partying. Williams threatened to go the way of many other athletes who are showered with money and adoration at a young age and kind of lose their way. But he didn't. He pulled it together. The tabloid scandals dried up. And Sonny Bill developed into quite a different man.

All Blacks Sonny Bill Williams with his daughter after their victory over Wales in the Rugby World Cup Bronze Final match played at Tokyo Stadium, Japan. Photo / Mark Mitchell
All Blacks Sonny Bill Williams with his daughter after their victory over Wales in the Rugby World Cup Bronze Final match played at Tokyo Stadium, Japan. Photo / Mark Mitchell

For all the criticism of his big contracts and fancy photo spreads, all the people who used to call him Money Bill Williams, you don't hear nearly enough people remembering that Sonny Bill Williams gave $100,000 of his own money to the Christchurch Earthquake appeal.

As the country's highest-profile Muslim, he used his leave in March of this year to travel back to the Christchurch and support the Community after the massacre. He prayed at the Al Noor Mosque.

I'll never forget having my hair cut by a Muslim guy in New York. Someone who'd never watched a game of rugby in his life, who couldn't wait to show me an international Muslim newspaper with Sonny Bill Williams on the cover, handing his World Cup Winner's medal to a young fan whom he thought had been unfairly roughed up by security. 'This' said my barber… 'this is a great Muslim.'

I want to read you the post from Sonny Bill's Instagram… the first thing he posted after last weekend's loss… to almost 900 thousand followers. It's a photo of him and his family, in Tokyo, his daughter in his arms. They're all smiling.

'Beaten by a better team tonight. Good luck to England's lads next week. I smile a lot these days because I know how blessed I am to do what I love for a job and to have my family here for the journey.'

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When we talk about rugby players, we talk a lot about role models. We love to pile on when they have sex in airport toilets or go off binge drinking behind the coach's back. So why do we still pile on when rugby players do the opposite? Why do we pile on when as role models, they consistently exceed our standards?

I remember interviewing Sonny Bill eight or ten years ago, and asking him in a little quiet moment what he honestly aspired to. 'It's simple.' He said. 'I want to be a good man.' I think Sonny Bill Williams has achieved that and more. As he walked off that pitch last night, his last night in an All Blacks jersey, I thought about how much I'll miss his dinky little backhand offloads and physical presence in the midfield.

But actually, what he does off the pitch is so much more important. In a sense, he has redefined professionalism. He's decent. He carefully and quite deliberately uses his platform for good. I think Sonny Bill Williams has set the professional standard for the modern All Blacks.