The love affair between Sonny Bill Williams and New Zealand rugby started on a Saturday afternoon in August 2010 when 4000 people crammed into the Belfast club ground, north of Christchurch, to watch him play for the home team against Lincoln University.
By coincidence, I saw Sonny Bill's arrival at Sheldon Park that day. A Christchurch friend John Harrison and I drove in behind him.
Sonny Bill was not in a Hummer, or a tinted window six litre Chrysler, but a modest white station wagon from which he quietly decamped to a changing shed built in the style of the average suburban public toilet.
John knew the Belfast coach, Don Farmer, and I had a chat with another Belfast club man, Steve Lucas, the local vet.
We're talking straight up and down blokes here. They both lauded the attitude Sonny Bill had shown at the club, with words like "humble" and phrases like "good joker" freely used.
John and I stood on a packed sideline with fans who cheered, nudged and clapped every time Williams touched the ball.
A colleague from the Sydney Morning Herald, Greg Growden, watched from the comfort of a bench, having donated $5 to the local school committee for the privilege. He couldn't resist smugly noting that he also got a free sausage sandwich.
• Rugby: All Blacks superstar Sonny Bill Williams fails to mention Steve Hansen, Richie McCaw in heartfelt thank you message to NZ
• Sonny Bill Williams confirms $10m move to Toronto Wolfpack in UK Super League
• League: Toronto Wolfpack hopes to reap benefits of Sonny Bill Williams signing for years to come
• Rugby League: Sonny Bill Williams could star in Netflix show with new league team
Belfast won 22-7, Williams scored a try, and offered several of his patented one-handed offloads.
All of which was a pleasure to report, but after that 2010 lovefest at Belfast, it hasn't always been smooth sailing for Williams and the public.
Thankfully, over the past decade, we've become accustomed to the aura that surrounded Williams, less precious about the fact he grew up and made his name as a league player, and, thankfully, appear to have forsaken jealousy to the point where even online trolls haven't turned feral at the news he'll return to league in Britain, albeit playing for a Toronto side, for a reported $10 million for two seasons.
Williams is now fully accepted for the clean-living family man he's become.
On a smaller stage, I'd suggest that in some ways, he's followed a similar path to the late Muhammad Ali.
It's a comparison Steve Hansen made in a 2014 interview with former Lions coach Sir Ian McGeechan.
"[Williams] is a little bit like Ali. The people that don't like him don't know him," said Hansen.
"There is a perception that he is arrogant and money-hungry. He is actually a very humble and hard-working guy. Because of those things, he is really easy to work with."
Williams has passed through periods close to vilification over the sincerity of his commitment to New Zealand rugby and sneaky suspicions about his religious beliefs.
Then there was some old fashioned green eyed monster stuff emerging when it was reported, for example, that Williams' hi-tech, new age All Blacks jersey was no match for old fashioned Tongan strength in the opening game of the 2011 World Cup, and was torn so badly he had to change into a new one on the pitch.
At the time, and I am not making this up, it was breathlessly reported that online viewing of a topless, six-packed Sonny Bill attracted more hits on YouTube than any playing action from the game.
Williams, it's true, was unlike any All Black who had worn the jersey before him.
Even his manager, Khoder Nasser, broke moulds. Every other professional rugby player in New Zealand is represented by an agent who looks born into a white shirt and suit.
Nasser, whose only other sporting clients apart from Williams have been league player Anthony Mundine, and Wallaby Quade Cooper, is more a baseball cap, polo shirt sort of guy.
Nasser apparently doesn't run an office, and as late as 2012, it was reported that he didn't use a computer. The son of a Lebanese migrant to Sydney, Nasser appears to operate almost in a parallel universe.
Todd Blackadder once told me how in 2011, when Williams was in the Crusaders squad in South Africa, Blackadder noticed a scruffy looking man sitting at the back of what until then had always been a private team meeting.
"I found out later it was Khoder," said Blackadder. "He was actually a pretty good bloke but we had to have a wee chat about how things worked on tour."
What can be seen with hindsight is that throughout his rugby career, Williams has enjoyed the complete trust and belief of coaches as diverse as Sir Graham Henry and Hansen with the All Blacks, and Wayne Smith and Dave Rennie at the Chiefs.
A mildly sane person would surely trust their judgement infinitely more than any anonymous, bitter, keyboard warrior.
So it's warming to feel that Sonny Bill leaves rugby here with good wishes far outweighing any negative feelings.
Footnote: I've never sat down for a one-on-one interview with Williams, but I did know the grandfather he was named after, Bill Woolsey.
We were both, weirdly, members of the City-Newton league club in the 1960s. Bill was a City-Newton player, a fearsome prop, right at home in the cage fighting atmosphere that was the norm in Auckland club league at Carlaw Park at the time.
I was, along with about 20 or so fellow Herald journalists, a social member of the club. We'd all joined because after playing social rugby for the Herald on most winter Sunday mornings at Victoria Park, we could then drink at the club's headquarters at the park.
The barmen were Bill Woolsey and club president Bill Anderson, who was also the head of the Northern Drivers' Union. The two men were never less than pleasant company.
I had a slightly embarrassing moment when I had to report on an Auckland Rugby League hearing when Bill Woolsey was suspended for carrying on an on-field scrap in the changing shed. Woolsey and I never spoke of it again.
Looking back, I have no idea how the Herald's industrial relations roundsmen in our rugby team dealt with reporting on Bill Anderson, who, as an avowed communist, got about the same coverage in the paper at the time as the Devil Incarnate.