You can't buy loyalty

You can't buy loyalty

So a turncoat-turned-rugby-union-player-turned-boxer turned up to a press conference on Tuesday to tell us he was reluctantly turning back to rugby league, the sport that originally turned him into a household name.

And the NRL's giddy reaction to all that turning was to signal that 2013 would be the year of SBW, the game's most infamous code-hopper to become the new face of the code.

In their defence, you can only figure the NRL thought it had better cash in now, because Sonny Bill Williams is not guaranteed to be around any longer than that.

After all, Williams doesn't do contracts for more than one year. Not since he jumped on a plane to France mid-season in 2008, skipping out on a four-year deal at the Bulldogs without so much as a Dear John letter.

You may have picked up, I'm not exactly doing backflips just because Sonny Bill does.

The NRL now has a billion-dollar television deal, but surely it can do better than investing a big chunk of its marketing dollar into a blatant mercenary who has no long-term investment.


The NRL would like fans to think that Williams is another one of the game's prodigal sons. Players have previously left for the money in other football codes, but they eventually come back to the ''greatest game of all''.

Wendell Sailor. Lote Tuqiri. Mat Rogers. Now Sonny Bill and soon (if they can ever get their act together) Israel Folau.

The difference is that at least Folau has said all the right things before his impending return to rugby league.

Folau, who took more millions than marks in the AFL, opted to end his rich deal with Aussie rules because ''the passion wasn't there''.

Folau, of course, won't be much poorer for his return to rugby league, but he handled the situation with humility.

In contrast, Williams returned to league admitting his heart wasn't really in the move.

He'd made a handshake agreement with Roosters boss Nick Politis three years ago and was honouring that - reluctantly.

''If I'm honest with myself I must admit that it was pretty tough to honour what Nick and I had agreed about but I'm here today to announce I'll be doing it and it's going to be a massive challenge,'' Williams said.

Funny how a handshake agreement with one of rugby league's most powerful men meant more to Williams than a contract.

Reminds me of the scene from the movie Jerry Maguire, where Tom Cruise's character, a desperate sports agent, loses the No.1 draft pick on the eve of the NFL draft because he'd accepted the father's word. No contract was needed because ''my word is stronger than oak'', the father had assured with a handshake.

In this case, the NRL, the victim in 2008, is handing Williams everything he demands.

He can play rugby in Japan. He can participate in a boxing bout in February. And then, without a pre-season, if he's fit to return from a pectoral injury, he can play the opening match of the NRL season in March.

And in all likelihood Williams will still return to rugby union in 2014, because he must do so if he wants to play in the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

We've already seen evidence that Williams' return to league has inspired greed. Benji Marshall's manager this week tried to claim the Wests Tigers superstar would seek a release to play rugby union in Japan in the off-season, to earn a few easy bucks.

The Tigers immediately blocked that, and correctly.

Despite Marshall's request, it's only a matter of time before the next player will come out and whinge about the drawn out length of the season and needing stand-alone representative matches.

The NRL recently blocked Danny Buderus from working as a consultant coach with the ACT Brumbies because it was a conflict of interest with the code.

What angered the NRL most, more than his co-operation with rugby union, was making the announcement in Canberra in a Brumbies polo shirt.

Did anyone take note that Williams didn't even wear a Roosters polo - or any club kit for that matter - when he announced his return to rugby league on Tuesday?

That's because Williams is a man and a brand unto himself. The game needs to be branded by superstars who are loyal to the game. Former Bulldogs sharp-shooter Hazem El Masri was one of those.

El Masri said earlier this week that Williams should not have been welcomed back to rugby league, that ''he just turned his back on us''.

Maybe that's what disgruntled fans should do whenever SBW gets the ball next season. Stand up and turn around in their seats with their backs to the field. Remind Williams that you can't buy loyalty, it needs to be earned.

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