SBW may well put posteriors on seats, but he's no league poster boy yet

 Some of his bigger fans believe that Sonny Bill Williams is firming the foundations of rugby league.

This recalls Peter Thomson’s stance when Greg Norman was earning more than the first prize in appearance money at his height when returning to Australian for tournaments.

As Tiger Woods could demand $1.5 million just for teeing up in tournaments at his height.

Thomson’s attitude was that appearance money corrupted — not in the sense of cheating, but in reducing golf’s values — one player being bigger than the game.

The counter argument was that a Norman or Woods paid back more than their appearance fees in extra crowds and sponsorship.

SBW — he has his own marketing slogan, the sign of the superstar — isn’t being paid appearance fees.

He fits under the Sydney Roosters’ salary cap.

And there’s no doubt he’s putting posteriors on seats and making the Roosters a magnet for publicity and sponsors.

As one official put it, SBW’s the bad guy every opposition supporter can hate.

Well, not everyone.

This is how big he is.

When Williams was playing for the All Blacks, kids were going down a Blacktown street after school, practising their passing and kicking.

They weren’t calling out the names  of NRL players, they were calling out ‘‘Sonny Bill’’.

That’s star power.

But when idolators say SBW should be the NRL’s poster boy, it’s fair to say they’ve lost their moral compasses.

By any definition, Williams is a prodigious talent. He may be one of the best players in history.

By any definition, he’s also a celebrity mercenary.

After he’s played three seasons for the Roosters, and committed himself to them to the exclusion of all else, that definition may be revised.

Until then, some may consider Williams’ return is the triumph of Mammon over principle.

Golf isn’t the only sport where the game is supposed to be bigger than the individual. 


‘‘Guts it out’’ — it’s one of the great descriptive sporting expressions.

So much more evocative than ‘‘resolute defence’’ or ‘‘lone defiance’’ or ‘‘backs-to-the-wall partnership’’.

The so-far disastrous tour of India has shown Australian batsmen have lost the ability to guts it out.

They don’t lack ability — there are strokemakers aplenty — but they do lack the art of structuring an innings in difficult conditions.

The retirements of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey deprived the team of teachers, but the problem goes deeper.

It was an art the best Australian Test batsmen used to possess, which is not to say things were better in the good old days.

Test cricket is more attractive than it’s ever been.

Draws are uncommon now, where once wins were almost the exception.

Forty years ago  250 could be an average day’s score, 200 was grim stuff and 300 and more was swashbuckling strokeplay.

Now anything under 300 is a slow day’s play.

And one-day and Twenty/20 cricket have produced batting strokes and imagination that never once existed.

Once upon a time two sixes in a batsman’s innings was big-hitting stuff.

Now it’s commonplace.

A revolution in bat design has been a big factor, but the reduced games and that imagination have been bigger factors.

A Bobby Simpson can lament the passing of an authentic square cut.

Now a variety of cuts go up in the air anywhere from point to over first slip.

The current Australian top six can play them all.

Michael Clarke excepted, what they can’t do is guts out an innings (Ed Cowan did in the second dig of the second-Test thrashing, but the suspicion is he’s an honest Group-Two performer just short of Group One class).

 Simpson could guts out an innings for two days, and he started his career as a dasher with all the strokes.

  Not far to look for the reasons why the current top-six can’t guts it out.

Limited-overs games have brought their benefits but they’ve also brought problems.

Batsmen only concentrate for so long before losing patience and looking for the limited-overs big-shot solution, and lose their wicket.

That, added to the downgrading of the Sheffield Shield, means they’ve lost practice at the Simpson-like art of surviving.

The altered relativities were best illustrated by spinner Xavier Doherty’s selection because of his form in the cauldron — limited overs and Twenty/20 cricket.

None of this Shield rubbish as a criterion.

Now limited-overs and Twenty/20 is infesting the first-grade competitions.

This is a plan for spoiling the first-grade — Shield — Test cricket progression, with players hardened by the time they reach the top — the progression that has stood the test of time, and Tests immemorial; the progression other countries have envied.

All is not lost.

The batsmen should learn from their experience in a real cauldron —  India. The bigger question is whether administrators will learn to restore some of the foundation.




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