SportsJune 1, 2016

A tale of two converts: Why is SBW the only one labelled a ‘mercenary’?


Their rugby and league career paths are strikingly similar, writes Jamie Wall, so why does Sonny Bill Williams get so much grief when Brad Thorn is universally admired?

SBW is back, but in blue this time. His form on the field will be the subject of much conjecture, but one thing will be for sure: the use of the words ‘mercenary’, ‘loyalty’ and ‘Money Bill’ will be appearing on Facebook feeds with gathering regularity over the next few days.

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Why does this guy cop so much flak? Unless you’re a very, very bitter Bulldogs supporter (the club he walked out on to go to Toulon in 2005) there really is no reason to get annoyed at the fact that he’s just doing what anyone else who is highly qualified does in the workplace – finding employment from places who are eager to have him.

Especially so when another former All Black / rugby league convert doesn’t get any flak at all, but universal admiration and respect. Brad Thorn and Sonny Bill Williams’ careers mirror each other an awful lot – NRL players, switching to union, back to representative league and then a final switch to win a World Cup with the All Blacks. That mirror gets a lot clearer when you add in the fact that Thorn once walked out on a team as well.

That team was the All Blacks.

That period of his career has benefited from some severe revisionist airbrushing from the media over the years. Apparently in 2001 he felt he ‘wasn’t ready for the jersey’ … except he then went back to the Broncos instead of getting himself ready for said jersey by continuing to play union. Interestingly, the All Blacks own website gives a slightly more ambiguous reason for his abrupt departure.

But everyone still loves him and everything he’s ever done – as well they should.

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So why the double standards? It could be because of Sonny’s slightly dodgy boxing career.

Or maybe, just maybe, some of the New Zealand sporting public struggle to accept a handsome, confident and proudly Polynesian man as a role model or hero. The ‘Veitchy On Sport’-commenting demographic seem to have a line for just how brown and proud it is acceptable be, and it’s quite clear that SBW burst through that long ago.

Whatever anyone thinks, the Blues are going to have a mean backline next season.

Brad Thorn

League: Broncos, Queensland, Kangaroos

Union: Crusaders, Canterbury, All Blacks, Tasman, Sanix Blues, Leinster, Highlanders, Leicester

Sonny Bill Williams

League: Bulldogs, Kiwis, Roosters

Union: Toulon, Canterbury, All Blacks, Crusaders, Panasonic, Chiefs, Counties, All Blacks Sevens, Blues

Boxing: NZ Heavyweight Champion (sort of)

Keep going!