The forecast is for Sonny to shine in Sydney

16:00, Nov 17 2012
CHAMP: Sonny Bill Williams.

After all the talk, commentary and hype, it finally happened in a crowded office at the Easts Leagues Club in Bondi Junction, Sydney around midday Tuesday.

The formalities went as expected.

Sonny Bill Williams, that coveted but controversial Australasian sporting superstar, put pen to paper with the Roosters, flanked by rookie coach Trent Robinson and smirking club chairman Nick Politis, who, only seconds before, had compared himself to Al Pacino.

Camera flashes popped. Politis' grin widened. And Khoder Nasser, the manager of the 19-test All Black, led a round of applause.

Sonny Bill was back in league, after four years, thousands of column centimetres and screeds of television tape.

The only thing that was missing, perhaps, was a chant from Nasser: "Sonny, Bumaye!"


Like anything in life, though, the little things said more about the way the SBW circus has crossed the Tasman than a scribble on a piece of paper, or a 30-second television soundbite ever will.

That all begins with the man never far from his side.

In the classic flick Jerry Maguire, Maguire's rival agent, Bob Sugar, says of pro sports - "It's not ‘show friends'; it's show ‘business'."

For Nasser and Williams, it seems to be both. The two are inseparable.

In New Zealand, we'd see them in the magazines, drinking free beer at tennis tournaments or chatting at a Hamilton gym ahead of another fight.

On Tuesday, Williams referred to Nasser, who, as a non-accredited NRL agent couldn't officially broker the deal with the Roosters, as his "boxing promoter and brother".

Indeed, that very morning the pair went out to buy Williams a new suit to wear to the signing, and subsequent press conference.

At one stage it looked like they wouldn't be able to find pants for SBW - so naturally Nasser offered his. During the camera-lined walk to the Leagues Club, SBW repeatedly called for Nasser to walk beside him.

Nasser's relationship with his clients is unique in Australasian sports, perhaps even in world sport.

That tightness, that perceived bond, was on display with league star-cum-boxer Anthony "The Man" Mundine, and volatile Wallaby star Quade Cooper.

Such was the closeness of it all, Mundine even paid the A$750,000 ($955,000) required for Williams to break his contract with the Bulldogs in 2008.

The boxer split with Nasser earlier this year, but in interviews even as recent as last week, remained incredibly grateful to and full of admiration for his former agent.

Although money could be a reason for the split, perhaps a growing awareness that he was now behind Williams and Cooper in Nasser's interests is more likely.

A fiercely private man when he and his client aren't in the media spotlight, Nasser appears to revel in the persona he has created in the media.

That persona? One of a maverick agent, a man who does things differently from the pack and stands so close to his charges that it is hardly possible to speak to one without nodding to the other.

That "maverick" approach can be seen in the way he has helped orchestrate SBW's career over recent years.

From the move to Toulon, to New Zealand rugby, to boxing, and the Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan, Nasser seems to revel in the notoriety of the moves his clients make, more than what the actual moves mean for his client and their legacy.

Williams' long-vaunted handshake agreement with Politis can be traced back through Nasser's links. It's no secret how close he and the Roosters chairman are.

Leading up to Tuesday and following it, the response to "The Return" in Australian rugby league and sporting circles has been predictable.

Opponents have been numerous, and vicious.

One Sydney-based newspaper suggested that Williams looked like a man sentenced to "a year of community service" after inking his Roosters deal, and went as far as suggesting that he was a rugby-loving prima donna reluctantly doing rugby league a favour by returning to the NRL.

Former team-mate Hazem El Masri even said that "if it was up to me, I wouldn't let him back in the game".

Although a cynic would undoubtedly share those sentiments, a neutral view would see Sonny in a different light at the press conference: a 27-year-old man, tired of constant attention, speaking with maturity and class in front of a no-win crowd.

His value to whichever code he plays for is undeniable.

A player of near-incomparable athletic ability, Williams is a true game changer and one of the absolute drawcards in both rugby and league.

Indeed, the 500 memberships the Chooks sold in the five hours following SBW's announcement is enough to illustrate the interest generated by his return to the lucky country, while the million-dollar increase in NRL TV rights for New Zealand showed he remains a drawcard in his native country.

Despite the vitriol, it is undeniable: all those who have sledged insults at the returning Williams and doubted his sincerity will be tuned in to that first Roosters' game come round one next season.

He's back, and Sonny's bigger than ever.

Sunday Star Times