What does Sonny Bill Williams want?
Straight after winning a World Cup and killing it for the Chiefs this year Sonny Bill Williams might be quitting New Zealand rugby, at least for now. He’s been pretty damn good at everything he's tried, but what does Sonny Bill want to look back on when he retires from sport? What does Sonny Bill want full stop?
Is it Money?
Does he just want to earn as much money as possible while he still can? Sonny Bill's earning potential relies almost entirely on his athletic prowess. In the physical contact sports in which Sonny Bill makes money, the window for serious earning is miniscule. It is extremely rare for a boxer, rugby, or league player to have any serious earning potential after their 35th birthday. Anyone older than 28 is considered to be in decline. Sonny Bill turns 27 on August 3. If Sonny Bill thinks that the best way to secure his financial future is to get paid handsomely by a Japanese club side and then sign with the Sydney Roosters for a massive salary, good on him. He should also take into account earnings from endorsements. In American sports, big stars don't mind going to a mediocre team if it is in a “big market city” where the endorsement deals are oh-so-lucrative. Think Carmelo Anthony playing for the New York Knicks, or even David Beckham to the LA Galaxy. Sydney is a “big market city”. Hamilton is not.
Is it Titles?
Maybe Sonny Bill is all about the trinkets. He already has a Rugby World Cup winners’ medal, an NRL title and – somehow – the New Zealand Heavyweight Title. Maybe he’s satisfied with that. Or maybe Sonny Bill isn't going to be happy till he wins a Rugby League World Cup as well. And he probably wouldn't mind having a go at State of Origin either, if they'll let him. Sonny Bill's boxing career always sat awkwardly with the NZRU. They let him do it, but it was definitely appeasement. As Neville Chamberlain knows, appeasement is a slippery slope. It makes absolutely no sense for the NZRU to allow one of their most valuable assets to risk injury pretending to be a boxer. If Sonny Bill signs for an NRL club he will make sure there is a clause in there that lets him box whenever he wants.
Is it Fame?
Maybe Sonny Bill just wants to be loved. Sonny Bill the rugby player is an interesting proposition. Kids love him. Women love him. Casual rugby fans love him. People who really follow the game? Not so much. If you weren't paying close attention you could easily have missed the time when Sonny Bill sold out his old team, the Canterbury Bulldogs. Yes, the team who gave him his first contract as a teenager and then broke the bank to pay him enough to keep him once he became a star. He repaid them by walking out mid-season in 2008 to take up a lucrative deal to play rugby for Toulon in France. He still had three-and-a-half years left on his Bulldogs contract. Money Bill, anyone? Sydney league fans don't forget that kind of thing too easily. In New Zealand, Sonny Bill is a big fish in a small pond. In Sydney, he will be a loathed fish in a fish bowl full of sharks all wanting their piece. Yes, he'll be ridiculously famous, but it's probably not going to be much fun.
Does he even know what he wants?
Sonny Bill's manager Khoder Nasser is the least trustworthy person of all time. I would rather sign the deed of my house to Brian Tamaki than enter into a contract with Khoder Nasser. Nasser’s stable also includes Anthony “The Man” Mundine and marsupial/first five-eighth Quade Cooper. Mundine’s mouth wrote far more cheques than his fists could ever cash, and Quade played his own game of contract roulette before playing woefully at the 2011 World Cup then mercifully getting injured. Khoder Nasser is an incredible figure – greasy, bearded, a ruthless negotiator, and prone to wearing tracky dacks to business meetings. Nasser has somehow gained the unquestioned loyalty of three of Australasia’s most talented athletes while being universally mistrusted by the rest of the world. Suspicion will always linger that what Sonny Bill ends up doing won't be his decision at all.
This article first appeared in Issue 15, 2012
Posted 5:13pm Sunday 8th July 2012 by Gus Gawn