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August 4, 2008 | by  | in Opinion |
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It’s Not Always Sonny in Footydelphia

It’s like one of those sordid little love stories better left dwindling on the pages of some teenage paperback: club sees boy, club courts boy, club signs boy, boy loves club, club loves boy, boy inexplicably develops longing for strange new club with seductive French accent (and ADORABLE dreadlocks), boy bails on old club in the heat of the night, old club left heartbroken, calls in lawyers, boy stands accused of cheating old club, fans, devotees of the game and violating the stringent details of his contract, not to mention several violations of the French language through a multiplicity of confused la’s and le’s.

Even the most devoted of Sweet Valley High readers would spit-take their Diet Coke at such flagrant audacity, and yet the trials and tribulations of Californian high school life seem pleasantly giggly in comparison with the school of hard knocks presided over by one Sonny Bill Williams, former Sydney Bulldog and public relations genius.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Sunday 27 July that the embattled NRL poster boy – who had voiced disdain and something resembling contempt towards how his injuryprone slapdash career had been directed by Sydney Bulldogs management – had hitched a one-way ride to league-soaked Europe with the brother of his manager, Khoder Nasser (brother, I can only imagine, is being used here in the LA street vernacular sense – Foolish be the man who fools with “Nasser Nasty’s” gang of overrated league-os) tearing his four-yearlong contract with the Sydney-based NRL team to shreds, and orchestrating the finest public relations coup since some guy called Adolf held a little athletics meet back in 1936.

The Bulldogs are understandably miffed at the lack of professionalism displayed by their estranged employee, and while insisting upon never lending Sonny Bill the right to laboriously slumber up to three or so tacklers, tweak a groin muscle and spend the next five weeks recuperating on the sideline, they are adamant he will see out the remainder of his four-year contract, and are prepared to initiate legal proceedings should he be seen to be lacing up his boots over in France. Needless to say, this is very least that they need to do. The Bulldogs are in the midst of one of their most trying seasons – currently scraping moss and flecks of lint off the North Queensland Cowboys’ shoulders, the only NRL team worse off than they are on the points table – they are feeling the old familiar sting of a season-long fatigue called losing, with all the fits and trimmings to boot. It could be argued that the only thing that had spun in the Bulldogs favour was Sonny Bill Williams’ decision earlier this year to honour his contract and not shirk the responsibility that comes with signing a contract, playing a team sport and – oh what’s that other thing – oh yeah, showcasing a shred of human decency.

There is no denying the talent of the 23-year-old, whose sense of vision and balance parked within his 6’3” 108kg frame makes for the perfect rugby league player. Whether or not the years he has spent sauntering around the stadiums of Australia barely fulfilling his potential lends itself well to Top 14 rugby in France remains to be seen, but with dollar signs in the vicinity of $4m AUS per year flashing up in his eyes, Sonny won’t have long to learn.

But the issue, of course, is not whether one of league’s glamour boys has the sporting acumen necessary to morph into a rugby player, but whether a sportsman should honour his employees in the midst of what can be mildly described as a “sense of unhappiness,” with his employment. If an employee seems to have lost that loving feeling for his job, is it worth pulling his collar and dragging him through to the legal end of his employment, or should the employer focus on finding someone else who would be enamoured at the prospect of filling that spot? As Bulldogs coach Steve Folkes said, “My first concern is finding someone tomorrow to play in his spot [against St George Illawarra].”

The Bulldogs and indeed the NRL as a whole would be wise to pull the choker on this doggy’s strikingly unprofessional gambit and draw a line in the sand, forever warning any other players thinking of wandering off that strays – particularly those content to hold the minders of the game of league to ransom – will find themselves without employment, without fans, without sponsors, and indeed without a career. Whether Toulon has something sunny signed up for Sonny is inconsequential; a precedent will be presented, and one hopes it errs on the side of common sense, and not the pages of teenage fiction.

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Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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