OPINION: As The Dominion Post's Letters section shows, Sonny Bill Williams is a polarising figure in New Zealand sport. Readers are as inclined to refer to him as "Money Bill" as by his given name.
Sentiment is the same in Australia, where Williams first burst on the sporting scene as an 18-year-old prodigy who could do things on a rugby league field that nobody had ever done.
However, admiration of his talents on both sides of the Tasman is tempered by the suspicion that he is more interested in making a buck than making history.
For that, Williams has no-one but himself and his manager Khoder Nasser to blame. Williams' first stint in Australia ended when he walked out on his Canterbury Bulldog team-mates mid-contract to join the deep-pocketed French rugby club Toulon. His All Black career ended, for the time being at least, when he departed New Zealand mid-season to take up a short-term contract in Japan.
Other All Blacks have quit New Zealand to take up lucrative positions overseas, but they have tended to be players on the fringes of the national team or players nearing the ends of their careers. Williams, on the other hand, was in his rugby prime when he departed for Japan and, just as he had when he first appeared on the league stage, was redefining the way the game should be played.
It is difficult for ordinary punters to comprehend how somebody could walk away from that. About one thing with Williams, however, there has never been any doubt, or not till now anyway. On the footy field he is a whole-hearted competitor. Fans might not have known where he would be playing next week or next month, but they always knew that while he was wearing the jersey they could count on him.
The news this week that his manager is finalising the details of a rematch with South African boxer Francois Botha puts that reputation at risk.
To date, Williams' boxing career has been the antithesis of his rugby and league careers. His opponents have been a mixture of the flabby, the unschooled and the elderly. One was even a sickness beneficiary. When he stepped into the ring against Botha two weeks ago it was the first time he'd come up against an opponent who knew how to use boxing gloves, but any credibility that might have been gained was lost when the contest abruptly ended, two rounds ahead of the advertised finish, just as the ageing South African was getting on top. Further controversy followed when Botha alleged he was offered $150,000 to throw the fight by Nasser, an allegation denied by Williams' manager, and it was reported that Botha had tested positive to having a banned stimulant in his blood - an allegation rejected by Botha.
Williams probably earns more for five minutes in the boxing ring than he does in half a season of rugby or league, but it is sad to see a once-in-a-generation sportsman squandering his talents fighting flabby no-names and has-beens.
If Williams wants to be taken seriously as a boxer he should fight someone his own age who knows what he is doing. If he doesn't, he should put away his boxing gloves and concentrate on something he is genuinely good at.
- © Fairfax NZ News