MANCHESTER, England // Code-swapping star Sonny Bill Williams was left “heartbroken” after failing in his bid to become the first player to win World Cups in both rugby union and league.
Williams was part of the All Blacks squad that won the union Cup on home soil in 2011, but his attempt to emulate that with the Kiwi league outfit came to a shuddering halt at the hands of an Australian team at the peak of its powers.
The Kangaroos ran out 34-2 victors at Old Trafford on Saturday, leaving Williams crestfallen on the final whistle, blown after his own knock-on in a prime attacking position and to groans of sympathy from the capacity crowd.
“Heartbroken. Left nothing in the tank, gutted I couldn’t bring it home for my brothers! Love these guys. Congratulations to the Aussie boys,” tweeted Williams.
Sonny Bill has become a cult figure in global sport. His good looks, athleticism and ability to cross not just between league and union but also professional boxing have won him many admirers, as well as many detractors.
“Money Bill” was one moniker given to him after his acrimonious split from NRL side Canterbury Bulldogs for French Top 14 club Toulon in 2008.
The timing of that transfer meant he missed out on the last World Cup when the Kiwis pulled off a shock 34-20 victory over Australia in the final.
Williams bounced back to club rugby in New Zealand and won 19 All Blacks caps before fighting his way to his country’s heavyweight boxing title, spending a season in Japan and then returning to league with the Sydney Roosters.
His return to the sport he professes to love above all others after a five-year absence was based on regaining the respect he lost after quitting the Bulldogs.
Williams earned that back in heaps, doing the hard yards and playing an integral part in the Roosters’ ride to the NRL title and named officially the game’s best player after winning the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) player of the season - the first time an Australian has not won the acclaimed award.
He was moved to tears when his teammates performed a stirring, impromptu haka to register the respect he is held in after he scooped that award.
The 28 year old hails his conversion to Islam in a bid to keep him on the straight and narrow after a series of alcohol-related incidents as the bedrock to how he now sees life.
And in testament to his Muslim faith, Williams had even tweeted before the match: “Win or lose #Alhumdullilah time to go to work.”
Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney had words of consolation for the towering Williams, who marked the final with a handful of his trademark offloads, with the capacity crowd also upping the volume every time he touched the ball.
They are a facet of his game that are sometimes devastating in broken play, but not up against the all-enveloping Kangaroo defence this time around.
“I don’t think you can fault his effort today,” said Kearney, adding that he had “tried his heart out all day”.
“Some of the stuff didn’t come off, but he wants to try and make an impact on the game and he was doing that until the end.”
So the quest for the first player to win World Cups in both rugby codes goes on. The question is now whether Williams will be back on board the All Blacks juggernaut for the 2015 union tournament in England.