Stirring haka a symbolic moment for Sonny Bill
Sonny Bill Williams was close to tears after being crowned international rugby league player of the year at a ceremony in Manchester yesterday.
Not because he beat the two other players on the shortlist, Scotland's Danny Brough and Australian superstar Greg Inglis, but because his New Zealand team-mates performed a haka for him as he stood on stage. As soon as it was announced that Williams had won league's top prize for an individual player, all of the Kiwis moved to the back of the function room at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester, where the awards ceremony was being held.
Then, as soon as he was presented with the trophy, and after he did a quick interview, the players launched into a stirring haka in his honour.
Williams said it was an incredibly emotional sight.
"It was definitely the best part of the night for myself," Williams said. "When I retire, that's what I'll miss, that feeling of knowing you've given it all but also knowing that you've got your brothers' respect.
"I can't remember the last time I cried, but I was definitely a bit teary up there, just seeing the brothers get up there and show that respect.
"Like I said to them straight away, one more week, hopefully I can put in another strong performance for the brothers and for the Kiwis."
Respect has been a constant theme for Williams throughout this World Cup. He may have entered it in controversial circumstances, with Melbourne youngster Tohu Harris having to make way for him, but he has been a sensation on and off the field for the team.
He may be the most well-known, richest and best player in the Kiwis squad, but being accepted as just one of the lads is what has made this tournament such a special experience for him.
"I wasn't really teary until I saw the boys do the haka," he said. "That means the world to me.
"I felt that after the way I left the game I lost a lot of respect, but this year, the way I tried to carry myself, I tried to get across the real me and the biggest thing is earning the respect of my fellow players and coaches. That's why I was a bit emotional at the end there. You don't get a haka done to you from the brothers if they don't respect you."
Personally, he had found peace of mind in himself as a man.
"My religion has obviously played a big part in that. But also, just keeping things simple and not getting too far ahead of myself, thinking about what I've got to do today, rather than thinking about tomorrow or the next day.
"Simplicity is the key and obviously it's worked this year for myself."
Meanwhile, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck won the award for winger of the year, Issac Luke was hooker of the year and Williams, unsurprisingly, was second-rower of the year.
International Player of the Year: Sonny Bill Williams (Sydney Roosters and New Zealand); International Coach of the Year: Trent Robinson (Sydney Roosters and Australia); International Rookie of the Year: George Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs and England); International Referee of the Year: Ben Cummins (Australia); Spirit of Rugby League Award: Maurice Oldroyd.
INTERNATIONAL TEAM OF THE YEAR
Fullback: Greg Inglis (South Sydney and Australia); winger: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Sydney Roosters and New Zealand); centre: Jamie Lyon (Manly); five-eighth: Danny Brough (Huddersfield Giants and Scotland); halfback: Daly Cherry-Evans (Manly and Australia); prop: Sam Burgess (South Sydney and England); hooker: Issac Luke (South Sydney and New Zealand); second row: Sonny Bill Williams (Sydney Roosters and New Zealand); lock: Corey Parker (Brisbane Broncos and Australia).