Johnstone: Williams' award makes mockery
Sonny Bill Williams isn't the best rugby league player in the world and the New Zealand Warriors should have done more to chase the services of master coach Tim Sheens.
These are a couple of points to emerge from the horribly lopsided World Cup final in Manchester yesterday where the Kiwis were embarrassed 34-2 by the Kangaroos.
The result and the associated performances of the individuals and teams made a mockery of the international awards that were handed out three days before the final.
How could Williams be judged the world's top player when he failed to match his game against the world's best team, chock-full of players that are arguably better than him?
How could someone who initially didn't even want to play in the World Cup gain that ultimate accolade?
Williams' efforts in helping the Sydney Roosters to the NRL title on his return to league from rugby were truly impressive.
But he was hardly the star of the World Cup, even as New Zealand steamrolled questionable opponents on the way to the finals.
And when they got to the business end of the tournament he was overshadowed. England prop Sam Burgess was the best player of the semifinal - bar the last 30 seconds where Kiwis playmaker Shaun Johnson literally stole the show.
And you could nominate any number of Kangaroos players who outperformed Williams in a final that was horribly one-sided.
The last play of the nightmare finale for New Zealand ended with Williams coughing up a knock-on - hardly the stuff of a champion player in a defending-champion team.
Australia had so many classy players who played consistently throughout the year and the tournament, that had better claims to the top gong than Williams.
Try Johnathan Thurston or Cameron Smith for a couple of conductors who orchestrate an attack that is unparalleled in the game and throws up other candidates like Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk or try-machine Brett Morris.
The World Cup, desperate for credibility in a sport lacking any depth below Australia, New Zealand and England, seemed to bend over backwards to accommodate Williams.
But to dish out a gong like that so early was simply wrong.
The award should have been made after the final when proper perspective could have been brought to bear on the candidates.
And then there's Sheens, the canny coach who has the Kangaroos operating with the sort of dominance and precision normally associated with the world's best rugby union team, the All Blacks.
He oversaw a total performance yesterday, one which wiped out the shock loss to New Zealand in the final in 2008 with staggering ease.
Sheens got his big men to stand up to the much-heralded Kiwi pack. Once that was quickly achieved, the result was never in doubt because the Kangaroos attacking armoury out wide is in a class of its own.
Sheens' name was bandied about when the Warriors were waving an open chequebook around, hunting for a new coach a little over a year ago.
Having parted ways with the Wests Tigers where he landed the 2005 title on top of three championships with the Canberra Raiders, Sheens stood out as a class above anyone else who was available.
The Warriors should have done more to twist his arm to cross the Tasman.
Matt Elliot, their eventual choice, failed to deliver in his first year in charge with the Warriors' absence from the play-offs hugely disappointing.
Elliot will be granted breathing space for that as he settled in his methods, but there will be no such grace next year.
Apart from the glamour signing of Sam Tomkins, it's hard to see where the Warriors are going to make up ground with the sort of consistency that has become a hallmark of Sheens' teams at club and international level.
The Warriors, like the Kiwis, have a history of flattering to deceive. They are capable of brilliance, but it's often restricted to flashes rather than fluency.