By the time you read this, the verdict will be in on Sonny Bill Williams’ return.
Leading into the Roosters clash with the Raiders on Saturday night, the SBW publicity blitz was quite remarkable. And the NRL has put a dollar value on it: a staggering $32 million.
The governing body says Williams has generated $32m worth of syndicated publicity since it was announced the Toronto Wolfpack were withdrawing from Super League and SBW was set to reunite with the Roosters. No player can generate the attention Williams can. It’s not what he wants, but it’s what he is used to. And I have finally cracked the secret to his success.
“Hard work allows me to find calmness in the chaos,” he said. “There is always hype. I just try to be where my feet are.”
The SBW frenzy was co-ordinated by long-time advisor Khoder Nasser to show the NRL exactly what an asset Williams is to the game and the NRL. He certainly made his point.
SBW was on every news website, on the front and back pages of the newspapers nearly every day and on the TV news every night last week. And the breakdown makes for fascinating reading. The print space is worth $7.8m, broadcast $8.2m and online nearly $16m.
Make no mistake, none of it would have happened under the old leadership team. ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys stepped in and bent the rules to allow Williams to return. It was a risk, given it looked like he was helping out the Roosters and their chairman, Nick Politis, but the positive press and TV coverage it has produced has shown V’landys knew what he was doing.
‘‘I said at the beginning he was a marketer’s dream and that has been proven,’’ V’landys said. ‘‘I’ve never seen so much publicity surrounding one player. It has exceeded my expectations. I honestly didn’t think it would attract this much attention and it won’t be just from league fans – it’s sports fans from everywhere who will want to watch him.
‘‘SBW reminds me of Usain Bolt. Even people who don’t watch athletics normally will have an interest when Bolt runs.
‘‘Obviously he [Williams] is a great footballer, but he is more than that. He has a charisma and presence that not many sportspeople have. He is bankable. And, in the end, we didn’t have to change the rules to get him here because the owner in Toronto didn’t pay the players.’’
The mysterious case of Griffin’s missing social media accounts
Anthony Griffin’s social media was shut down mysteriously during the week after some of his controversial ‘‘likes’’ started to get noticed by the media.
Griffin, who was one of three candidates to interview for the vacant Dragons coaching job during the week, has liked the tweets of US President Donald Trump and Australian One Nation senator Pauline Hanson, among others, and he is obviously entitled to support those political views as much as anyone.
Where he may get into dangerous territory is some of his ‘‘likes’’ on posts related to the Black Lives Matter movement, something many players in the NRL have supported by taking a knee.
His account liked the following: ‘‘BLM supporters have now killed more blacks in a month than the police have in 35 years. Had enough yet?’’
Griffin’s account also liked Hanson’s bid to have an ‘‘all lives matter’’ motion debated in the Senate, which was defeated.
Griffin has also liked two controversial tweets by NSW One Nation MP Mark Latham.
‘‘NRL Indigenous round used to celebrate the greats like [Arthur] Beetson,’’ Latham wrote on Twitter and Griffin liked. ‘‘Now it’s one big whinge along the lines of: White European culture is so bad I can’t sing the National Anthem. But the white European culture of this imported footy game is so good I’m pocketing the $700k per season.’’
Latham also posted: ‘‘Peter V’landys has sent out a search party looking for racism in rugby league. All they have found so far is his banning of Islander Christian Israel Folau.’’ Griffin also liked that post. V’landys, of course, recently said he was ‘‘ashamed’’ of racism targeted at Indigenous players.
Griffin also wrote a column in the News Corp media following the first State of Origin clash last year about the national anthem, saying Cody Walker had his priorities wrong when he used his first press conference in NSW camp to say that he, as an Indigenous man, would not be singing the national anthem.
‘‘For Walker to focus on the anthem, he subsequently drew energy from his teammates,’’ Griffin wrote. ‘‘When asked, they then had to publicly back him, agree to respect his stance, or, even worse, silently disagree. All the while drawing collective energy away from the reason the team had come together, to create a bond to win a rugby league battle that was greater than all of them.’’When asked about his social media, Griffin said his account was operated by his daughter.
‘‘I don’t think there is racism in rugby league. In all my years involved in the game at all levels, I’ve never come across it,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m a strong believer of the Indigenous game. But I feel it has been politicised. It’s important we celebrate the contribution of the great players, past and present. I understand the concerns with the anthem, and if it can be changed to be more suitable, I’m all for it. I’ve great friends and family who are Indigenous.’’
The Dragons say they are aware of Griffin’s social media history.
Moses seeks time
Plenty of players and rival agents are awaiting the outcome of Isaac Moses’ appeal against his banning as an agent. That wait has been extended. Moses, who manages some of the biggest names in the game, has had a few days of his hearing and has asked for more time from the appeals committee to add to his case, which has been granted.
The plot thickens
Last week Anthony Seibold told this column there was no person of a significant NRL profile among the names handed over to the integrity unit regarding the trolling of him online. Yet his lawyer is leaking information that three names have been put forward. There is something that doesn’t add up about this story.
On Friday, Peter V’landys wasn’t impressed with the information the NRL had received. I’ve been told it’s flimsy. That backs up what Seibold told this column. Seibold’s lawyer had indicated people were about to be named. That was two weeks ago and he’s now not returning calls.
End of Todd squad
The NRL’s ‘‘bloated’’ head office is being dragged into a new era.
The NRL continued to dismantle remnants of the Todd Greenberg era with the announcement of two more departures from the executive team this week. It comes as rumours continue to swirl about Greenberg campaigning for a role with the new Sydney stadiums group, VenuesLive. He is being linked to the chairman’s job.
But back to the dismantling of the old ‘‘Todd Squad’’.
The first to go this week, as we forecast last week, was chief operating officer Nick Weeks. He was part of Greenberg’s inner sanctum, along with former chief financial officer Tony Crawford and Andrew Abdo. They not only made the big decisions, but caught up socially and even had breakfast together once a week. They were running the show but, in a matter of months, Greenberg, Crawford and Weeks have all been shown the door.
Abdo was an ARLC favourite and he not only survived, but has now been promoted to CEO. It is safe to say his invitation to future breakfasts may be lost in the mail.
Weeks was a good operator, but was one of the main beneficiaries of the generous pay packets dished out by ‘‘Dollars’’ Greenberg in his last two years. It simply wasn’t feasible to keep paying executives upwards of $700,000 when funds are now so tight. So Weeks had to go.
The other role made redundant this week was chief corporate affairs officer, held by Liz Deegan. The NRL spent upwards of $500,000 recruiting for the role, creating the position, making it redundant and delivering another payout.
Danny Weidler is a sport columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.