“I see a lot of similarities between Sonny Bill and Wayne Bennett,” Fittler said. “In this day and age where everyone is loud, they both have silence as their strength. That’s a lost art. It’s not easy to lead through silence, but that’s what Wayne does and what Sonny does.
‘‘Sonny is not asking to be in the headlines, nor is he asking for people to talk about him. He hardly talks at all publicly, and privately he is a quiet guy. He leads by his actions. He will come here with expectation. He might not make everyone happy when he plays out here and may not have the same impact, but here is his strength, he wears it; he gets on with things; doesn’t listen [to the doubters] and trains harder. He might be a bench player in this final phase and I think it’s brilliant he will be back here. He is as good an athlete as you would see and we are lucky he is coming out here again.”
A byproduct of Williams’ return to league is the revitalised interest in his boxing career.
After thinking he was never going to fight SBW, Paul Gallen had a chat with Williams’ manager, Khoder Nasser, during the week and Gallen was told he will be fighting Williams in the new year. It would have been sooner, but Nasser doesn’t want to lock in anything while COVID-19 is still a big factor.
“That’s the first time I’ve talked to Khoder in years,” Gallen said. “We had a deal, but they keep on running away from me. I seriously doubt Sonny will fight me or wants to because he knows what he is in for.”
Nasser shot back: “Keep training Gal. Your chance will come one day.”
Fear of Todd
The rugby league community is keeping a close eye on where former NRL boss Todd Greenberg’s next job. Not because there is a great love for Greenberg among the clubs or at head office, but because he may still have a big impact on the game.
Greenberg’s name is being linked with just about every senior sporting administration role that becomes vacant. He would dearly love to take over as chief executive of Cricket Australia.
Greenberg has a background in cricket, playing first grade in Sydney where he was renowned as someone who occupied the crease for long periods without actually putting many runs on the board.
Some would say he had a similar reputation at the NRL. He is considered unlikely to be seriously considered for the cricket role.
When Greenberg was seen having a coffee with former Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle recently it was speculated that he might want to succeed her in Australian sport’s most difficult role. But it is understood he was just catching up with Castle and is not likely to seek that job either.
The most likely option is a role with the agency being set up by the state government to run all major NSW stadiums. And that is why the NRL is holding its breath.
As this column revealed a couple of weeks ago, it was initially thought Greenberg would be given a position on the board of the new super body.
He has the credentials, given he has previously been general manager of Stadium Australia (ANZ). However, there is a growing belief he will be appointed CEO, giving him sweeping powers over the main venues used by rugby league. That includes ANZ Stadium, the new Moore Park stadium, Bankwest at Parramatta and the league stadiums in Newcastle and Wollongong.
Although he fell out with ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys, Greenberg is a professional operator who wouldn’t let that cloud his judgment. However, he and V’landys have totally different views on how money should be spent on upgrading stadiums.
Greenberg oversaw a policy that favoured a few world-class venues with huge capacity, such as the Olympic Stadium. V’landys wants to build a network of small boutique grounds in places such as Leichhardt, Cronulla and Brookvale. V’landys argues that full stadiums look better on TV and will bring home-ground tribalism back to the game.
Big Mal’s huge coup
The man breathing the biggest sigh of relief following David Fifita’s decision to join the Titans was Gold Coast’s head of culture Mal Meninga. He needed a big signing.
The club has thrown its hat in the ring for player after player. After going all out to offer Fifita a huge deal, another failure would have landed in Meninga’s lap. Instead, for now, Mal is a hero. Provided Fifita’s immense talent continues to blossom on the field, Meninga can bathe in the success of the signing.
While the pressure is off Meninga, it is mounting on embattled Broncos coach Anthony Seibold. Talk of a lack of faith in the coach and the club’s direction are being offered as reasons for Fifita’s departure, as much as the growth of his wallet.
Fifita and Payne Haas are the two most exciting young forwards in the game and the loss of Fifita is causing angst at Broncos HQ.
The imbalance of their roster is a huge issue. Perhaps the Fifita money can be spent on a top playmaker.
Suaalii caught in middle
When it comes to 16-year-old Joseph Suaalii, duty of care seems to be a secondary issue for everyone, apart from his loving family.
I had a long chat to his dad, Chris, recently for an interview. It was all positive, but after writing the piece, his family asked me to pull the story so as not to put any extra pressure on him – for his mental health.
Since then he has become big news because rugby is back making a play for him, reportedly offering $3million over three-and-a-half years, although Rugby Australia says the offer is much less. In my chat with Chris several weeks back, he indicated a deal with rugby was not off the table. It’s understandable that the family will look at rugby’s money and find it difficult to ignore. Rugby officials are promising a place in the sevens team at the Olympics (which may not take place due to COVID-19) as the main lure. They also want him in a Waratahs side as soon as next week.
He is an incredible talent, but where is the preparation to play against men? He did a pre-season with Souths months back and he trained with The King’s School for two weeks before spending a COVID-enforced break at home with his folks as they cared for his seven siblings, including his sister, who is battling health issues.
Parents from King’s were of the view during the week that he shouldn’t play for the school due to all the hype during the week. They had his interests at heart.
The family needs more people like that in its corner. Rugby wants him to train three days a week with the Waratahs and to fit school around that. If that’s possible. His family wants Joseph to finish school.
Rugby started the focus on Suaalii when Wallabies coach Dave Rennie went to the family’s house in February to pitch for the young man. And then leaked the story.
Rugby is desperate and needs a big signing. That’s fine, but Joseph’s wellbeing needs to be considered above everything else.
Stan’s the man
Nine Entertainment – owners of this masthead – has commissioned Stan Grant to work on a number of pieces for the NRL’s Indigenous round as part of the network’s football coverage. Grant has provided the words for the three “openers’’ throughout the weekend that will feature Indigenous actor Luke Carroll, Johnathan Thurston and himself.
Grant is also trying to get video messages from the likes of Cathy Freeman, Adam Goodes, Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Patty Mills to be used during the weekend.
Danny Weidler is a sport columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.