By: Nigel Yalden | Saturday, August 25, 2012 6:00 AM
Tonight it all comes to an end.
When referee Nigel Owens blows the whistle to signify the end of the Rugby Championship/Bledisloe Cup test in Auckland, so too does it signal the end of Sonny Bill Williams time in New Zealand rugby.
You have to admit, it’s been one heck of rid and all we were doing was watching.
It’s impossible to even begin to comprehend what it would have been like sitting in the front seat of that high speed rollercoaster for the last three years.
But it was never going to be an easy trip for Williams.
The details behind his sudden and acrimonious departure from the Bulldogs rugby league club have never been truly revealed and whether he was right or wrong (and we will never know the answer to that question) the result of the affair saw him branded as disloyal and self-serving; an offence punishable by death in the passionate, tribalistic world of the NRL.
These are labels that followed him first to France and then continued upon his arrival on the New Zealand rugby scene.
Now I have never purported to be an expert in the study of human behaviour, nor be a psychologist or public relations guru.
But based on my observations through my dealings with Sonny Bill Williams, both at All Black and most recently Super Rugby level with the Chiefs, disloyal and self serving are two descriptions that just don’t married up with this young man.
Yes, Sonny Bill Williams business affairs, and occasionally his personal ones, are invariably conducted in the public domain.
His manager/promoter handles these situations in a way that would be considered acceptable in the United States and better understood in Australia, given the length of time professional sport and self-promotion has been in both countries.
In New Zealand though, that just doesn’t sit well.
For the most part, the Kiwi way is the blue collar way - head down, bum up, earn your pay and don’t make a song and dance about it.
Yet despite the perception to the contrary, that’s actually how Sonny Bill Williams appears to operate on a day to day basis.
You sense that while he appreciates the efforts and understands the reasons why his manager/promoter is doing these things for him on such a public stage, it doesn’t necessarily always agree with him.
Sonny Bill Williams is an incredibly likeable person and an extraordinary athlete.
But he also strikes you as a bloke who, like the vast majority of most people, just wants to be accepted for who he is.
That appears to have happened of the most part during his time with the Crusaders but he found the acceptance he was searching for in its totality at the Chiefs.
The coaches speak incredibly highly of the man and what he brought on and off the field to the team.
His team-mates are just as glowing in their praise; often speak of guy who received a lot more stick than he ever gave out and handled it in a wonderfully self deprecating way.
And there wouldn’t be too many Chiefs fans that didn’t get a SBW autograph this season, such was the amount of time he spent signing his name.
Sonny Bill Williams departs just as his mastery of the nuances of the game of rugby is matching his unbounded athletic ability and for some he will be seen as the ultimate example of “you don’t know what you got until you lose it”.
Yet he won’t be lost for long.
When you watch and listen to Sonny Bill Williams talk about leaving, he speaks with genuine emotion about what he’s learnt about the game, about the people, about the country and about himself.
I don’t think he wants to go.
I think it’s tearing him to leave, but it’s also the right time to repay a debt, in the form of a promise, made during a very tumultuous time of his life.
He’s grown a lot in so many ways since that time and the catalyst for his latest growth spurt has been his time spent in Hamilton plying his trade.
This is the reason why I firmly believe that Sonny Bill Williams will come back to New Zealand rugby and when he does, he will come back to the Chiefs.
** As published in the Waikato Times on Saturday 25 August 2012 **