Internally, Saturday night has nothing to do with Sonny Bill Williams for the Sydney Roosters. But externally? Coach Trent Robinson knows the eyes of the rugby league world will be on not just his team, but the man wearing their No17 jersey against Canberra. 

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He welcomes the attention surrounding the former All Blacks midfielder because this is 2020 and Robinson was one of the men at the forefront of restarting the game amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

He knows every extra set of eyeballs on the NRL is a good thing, with some even predicting 100million to watch the game. The Roosters coach confirmed on Friday that Williams would play his first NRL game in almost six years on Saturday night at GIO Stadium.

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“He’s got an aura about him. He has earned that through achieving in many different places and challenging himself,” Robinson said. “He’s an extreme athlete who ended up pushing his limits, not just physically but mentally. People respect that.

“It’s a real feather in the cap of the game as well that we have got him here and people will be watching around the world. That external focus is really important, we know that this year. It’s very important we get eyeballs on our game.”

Robinson and the Roosters have grown used to sideshows. There was Williams’ first return in 2013, the futures of Mitchell Pearce and Latrell Mitchell and the arrival of Cooper Cronk. And who would forget the never-ending story of Cronk’s shoulder in 2018, the will he, won’t he saga that lasted until an hour before kick-off in the grand final. Roosters insiders insist the spotlight was far more intense that week than during the current one around Williams.

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And still, they handled it with ease. It’s why Robinson hasn’t had to address his players on the hype around Saturday’s game. “I knew what having him [Williams] back would do,” Robinson said.

“Externally, that is the biggest talking point. Internally it’s how do we want to play? We want to get better every game. And that includes this weekend. We want to nail the way we play on Saturday night and we want to honour Josh Morris playing 300 games.”

Fan-favourite Morris will become just the second outside back in the game’s history to reach 300 games. Luke Keary will return, Mitchell Aubusson and Angus Crichton remain some chance and a top-four spot is on the line for both clubs.

Yet all the questions and focus will remain around a man set to play limited minutes off the bench. “He’s ready to play,” Robinson said of Williams. “Not having played since March it’s been a span of time for him. It’s important to get back out there to get the match fitness. You can run around, sit on a bike, do as much as you like. But match fitness is important.”

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Strategically, Robinson isn’t concerned either, with Williams having taken notes in a month’s worth of video sessions. “There is more depth to our system now (than in 2014),” Robinson said. “He is a learned guy. He studies hard. He would do as much video as anyone I have seen.”

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