Sonny Bill leaves rugby's 'pretty boys' behind

BRAD WALTER
Last updated 05:00 08/03/2013
Sonny Bill Williams
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COMEBACK: Sonny Bill Williams made his NRL comeback for the Roosters.

Coming in off the long run

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Sonny Bill Williams has described his losing debut for the Sydney Roosters as tough after his time spent in rugby "kicking stones with the pretty boys".

Williams played just 51 minutes for the Roosters against South Sydney in his return to the NRL last night but he scored a try and was second only to hooker Jake Friend in the team's tackle count.

He said it was a ''disappointing'' start but declared: ''It is good to be back in the game I grew up playing.

''In rugby I was out wide kicking stones with the pretty boys so it was a bit tough making tackles in the middle,'' Williams said.

''I didn't play too flash but hopefully it is onwards and upwards from here. In my first stint I was blowing hard but by the end of the second half it felt like second nature again. In the second half I felt like I started finding my feet again.''

Williams may not have turned in the dynamic performance many of the record round-one Sydney crowd of 35,952 at Allianz Stadium had hoped for but the 27-year-old reminded fans he had one of highest work rates in the game before he walked out on the Bulldogs in 2008.

No doubt, Williams will display his flair as he settles into a code he hasn't played for five years but first up the All Blacks star wanted to focus on the basics.

With the Roosters outgunned 28-10 by a strong South Sydney outfit many believe can end the club's 42-year premiership drought, Williams struggled to get involved and managed just six touches with the ball. However, he made 28 tackles.

Watched by his manager and boxing promoter Khoder Nasser, who was in South Sydney co-owner Russell Crowe's box before the game, Williams had to wait 29 minutes before coach Trent Robinson threw him into the fray.

For much of that time, Williams warmed up and stretched on the sideline. It seemed Robinson wanted him to go on when the Roosters were in possession but as they conceded penalty after penalty he had to bide his time, and took to the field after Nathan Merritt crossed to put Souths ahead 12-4.

His first involvement was to pack down in the front row of a scrum and Williams made a hit-up in the next set but his strongest memory of the first half would be of Sam Burgess tackling him. No doubt, the sight of Burgess trampling Williams just before half-time would have satisfied the small contingent of Canterbury fans who held up a banner that read: ''SBW - we haven't forgotten.''

Williams was a lot more aggressive in the second half and crossed in the 77th minute after running into a hole from a Frank Paul Nuuausala pass.

League legend Phil Gould was among those impressed by his performance. ''It was a nice comeback I would say, nothing brilliant but nice,'' Gould said. ''He has probably gone better than I thought after a long time out of the game.''

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- Sydney Morning Herald

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