He has been cast as a mercenary and a villain by many, but there cannot be any doubting his pulling power.
Sonny Bill Williams, who was accused of selling out on the Bulldogs, may now sell out Allianz Stadium, giving the NRL a record start to this year's season.
NRL and Sydney Roosters officials are hopeful the club's round-one season opener on March 7 against South Sydney, Williams's first match for his new team, will be sold out.
The hype around Williams's debut already had ticket sales tracking well, but the performances of the two sides in their final trials over the weekend - the Roosters' 28-16 win over Wests Tigers in the Foundation Cup and the Rabbitohs' 28-10 victory over St George Illawarra in the Charity Shield - have officials expecting a further surge in ticket sales this week.
"Ticket sales are tracking along very well" ... chief commercial operating officer of the Roosters, Ted Helliar. Photo: Getty Images
''Ticket sales are tracking along very well,'' said the chief commercial operating officer of the Roosters, Ted Helliar. ''They've been extremely positive so far.
''I'd love nothing more than to put the sold-out sign up. It's probably a little too early to tell whether it will be. This time next week, we may have a better idea.''
A sellout would mean a crowd close to the stadium's capacity of 45,500, and a record for the Roosters in a home-and-away match.
Their SCG match against St George Illawarra in 2010 drew 37,994, a record for Roosters non-finals matches.
''It would be great to see a sellout,'' an NRL spokesperson said. ''It's the first match and the first round, and there's the Sonny Bill factor. But you can never make those sorts of predictions.''
It remains an unknown how supporters will respond to a Thursday night match but the television ratings for trial matches show the appetite for the start of the NRL season is significant.
Friday night's Charity Shield match was the highest-rating contest over a busy weekend of televised sport on pay television, drawing 240,000 viewers.
The Foundation Cup - featuring an impressive Roosters side, without Williams but including other new signings James Maloney, Michael Jennings and Luke O'Donnell, dispose of the Tigers - drew 173,000, although the crowd at Allianz Stadium was small largely because of poor weather.
In comparison, Israel Folau's Super Rugby debut with the Waratahs against the Reds drew 174,000 viewers, giving rugby union the equivalent, perhaps appropriately, of a win by a late penalty goal over the NRL trial, screened on the same night.
The strong ratings for the Foundation Cup came despite the fact that Williams, who controversially walked out on the Bulldogs in 2008 to play rugby union, was sitting on the sidelines. Roosters coach Trent Robinson erred on the side of caution with the star signing, deciding to give him more time off the field as he recovers from a pectoral injury.
Robinson remained confident Williams would be fit to play the Rabbitohs.
The Roosters emerged relatively unscathed from their final hit-out before round one; Daniel Mortimer required eight stitches to a cut under his right eye, but is not expected to be in any doubt for the season opener.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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