SBW still 'fantastic man', says disappointed Rennie
Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith flew to Sydney more in hope than expectation. They had received word that Sonny Bill Williams was going to stay on in league for another year and they tried to change his mind.
But Sonny tends to run straight lines and he wasn't for turning. At that lunch SBW pledged to return to the Chiefs in 2015, but he wanted one more year to build on the success of the Roosters.
Rennie says: "We were reasonably confident he was coming to us, but we went to Sydney because we had heard a whisper, so we went over to talk to him. He'd made a commitment (to the Roosters). Everything we said made sense, but the easy option was for him to play one more year over there."
My view remains that the All Blacks jersey is one of sport's sacred garments and if Sonny Bill wanted to play in the 2015 World Cup, then he had to commit to a lengthy lead-up period. Rennie is disappointed that the Chiefs will lose out in 2014 on all the good things that Sonny Bill brings on and off the pitch. But his admiration for Williams, the man, is as high as ever.
The Chiefs head coach says, "He's a fantastic man. I don't use that word lightly. I hadn't had anything to do with him, prior to meeting with him and Khoder for the first time. He really impressed me. He's almost the total opposite to what he's portrayed in the media.
"The media want to imply that he's bigger than the game. That it's all about him. That he's selfish and so on, but Sonny is incredibly professional, really diligent with his assessment and analysis."
He was also a huge influence on the Chiefs dressing room in 2014. The most unlikely people are sometimes model pros. Eric Cantona arrived at Manchester United and startled everyone with his work ethic. SBW became a quiet leader of men at the Chiefs.
Rennie says, "He doesn't drink, so his recovery is a massive part of his ability to play well the following week. He had a big influence on our young island boys. A lot of them gave up drinking. A lot of them would get together with Sonny on the Sunday and go through stuff. He's got the patience of a saint.
"Every Tom, Dick and Harry can come to our training and he'll hang around for photos and to sign autographs. He's fantastic in that area. If you talk to the players, they'll say he's down to earth, just one of the guys.
"That's why we were pretty desperate to get him back. It's not just the playing ability. He's a massive positive influence within our group. He's a quality man, really caring. That's why the boys love him. He constantly impressed me. We'd have him back in a heart beat."
There is a perception that Khoder Nasser, Williams' manager, is some sort of Svengali, pulling SBW's strings.
Rennie says, "Khoder never makes any promises he can't deliver on and calls a spade a spade. He's real easy to deal with. You've got to deliver on what you promise and have the same expectation of him."
When SBW first came to the Chiefs, he was in training for a title fight. Nasser didn't want the Chiefs flogging him. But Rennie wasn't prepared to let SBW turn up late. He wanted him there in January. Rennie insisted that Williams become familiar with the Chiefs' structures and how they played the game.
So Nasser and Rennie compromised. SBW would come to the Chiefs on time, but he didn't need the extra physical workload. Rennie agreed to let SBW skip the Chiefs conditioning session at the end of the day.
Rennie says, "We got all the boys to go down to his training and watch him box for two hours and he just flogs himself. So immediately they didn't mind him not doing his 30 minutes at the end of our day. Five days a week he's hammering himself in the boxing gym. We delivered that and they delivered on their promises.
"Khoder's bloody good like that. He gave the whole organisation, all the players, all the management, all our administrative staff, plus partners, tickets to the fight. It was over 100 tickets. So we're all there behind Sonny at the fight.
"Sonny Bill had the option to box again in May and turned it down. He said, 'I'm going to help the boys win a championship.' I can't speak highly enough of him."