Ex-teammate attacks SBW's league return

BRAD WALTER
Last updated 08:07 13/11/2012
Sonny Bill Williams sets up Hazem El Masri to score a try for the Bulldogs in a match against St George Illawarra in 2006.
TIM CLAYTON/Fairfax Australia

HAPPIER DAYS: Sonny Bill Williams sets up Hazem El Masri to score a try for the Bulldogs in a match against St George Illawarra in 2006. Williams walked out on the club two years later.

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NRL interim chief executive Shane Mattiske and salary cap auditor Ian Schubert have met Sonny Bill Williams before his official return to the game with Sydney Roosters, but former Bulldogs teammate Hazem El Masri does not believe the dual international should be allowed back.

While Channel Nine sports boss Steve Crawley described the one-year deal Williams will formalise today as ''one of the great signings'', El Masri launched a stunning attack on the All Blacks superstar for walking out on Canterbury five years ago.

''The way he left the game, if it was [up to] me, to be honest with you, I wouldn't even let him back in the game,'' El Masri said.

The unusually outspoken reaction of El Masri, who was speaking after his appointment to a new role as an NRL community engagement officer, highlights how big Williams's return is and why Canterbury officials were so eager to host the Roosters in round one.

Next year's NRL draw is due to be released later this week but despite the Roosters' poor performances the past two seasons, Crawley confirmed that their match against South Sydney had been chosen by Channel Nine as the season opener on Thursday, March 7.

''There is no doubt that Sonny Bill Williams's potential presence there is a highly influencing factor in that decision,'' Crawley said.

''The guy is a superstar … it is one of the great signings so I hope that he is fit and I hope he can play to his potential.''

Mattiske said Williams had taken steps to alleviate concerns about the NRL not registering his contract due to his manager Khoder Nasser being an unaccredited agent or his plans to fight South Africa's Francois Botha in February by attending the meeting at League Central on Monday afternoon.

Williams, who has said he is honouring a handshake agreement made two years ago with Roosters supremo Nick Politis, was accompanied by the club's chief executive Brian Canavan and Williams's lawyer Stephen Gorry.

''For him to come in see and us demonstrates that he has an understanding of the rules that he will need to comply with and a respect for the game,'' Mattiske said.

''We made it clear to Sonny that he does need to finalise the contract and that contract needs to be provided to us, and he indicated that will be presented before the end of this week.

''It will be up to the game then to be satisfied that the contract meets our requirements and the requirements of the rules.''

However, El Masri remains bitter at the way Williams left the Bulldogs midway through the 2008 season to join French rugby side Toulon.

After paying Canterbury A$750,000 to release him from his five-year contract, Williams has developed into arguably the biggest star in international rugby and is also New Zealand's heavyweight boxing champion.

''I've never disputed his talent, I have just disputed the way he went about things,'' El Masri said in an interview with Channel Seven and Channel Ten. ''That's just me. I hated the way he left all his teammates behind and took off. That is not what I am all about.

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''I am just about someone who is honest and direct with us, and the way that he just left, especially when we really needed him at that time … we were down and out, and he just turned his back and went on us, and for me that shows a different type of character.

''As I said, it's just the way he went about it and couldn't honour a written contract but now he honours a handshake. I know he has been flying in and out and trying to make up his mind, whether he wants to box or play rugby or whatever, and I don't know what is next - is it netball or is it darts or who knows what it is.

''But good luck to him and good luck to the Roosters fans. I hope he settles down and goes well because I love watching him play.''

❏ Former Parramatta and NZ Warriors coach Daniel Anderson has ruled himself out of contention for a job with Sydney Roosters to take up the role of NRL referees high performance director. Tony Archer and Russell Smith will be his deputies.

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