Patrick McKendry / NZ Herald
Sonny Bill Williams will run on to Westpac Stadium on Saturday for what will almost certainly be his final Super Rugby game for the Blues or any other New Zealand franchise with a mindset that he has had for more than a decade since a doctor told him a knee injury would severely limit his playing career.
Live for the moment, seize the day, call it what you want, but a determination to continually better himself and make the most of his talents has played a big part in Williams’ life and the 33-year-old credits that diagnosis as a 22-year-old as being a game-changer for him.
His days really are just about numbered due to the toll professional sport has taken on his body but he at least gets to start for the Blues one last time and potentially go out on his own terms.
“When you spend time on the sidelines you do spend a lot of time contemplating,” said Williams today when facing up to his first match since round seven due to knee surgery. “When I was 22 – funny story – when I had my first knee injury the doctor at the time said I wouldn’t play past 24. I’m 29 now and still going.”
The sense of fun remains too, of course, given he’s a bit older than 29.
“The blessing in that was that from an early age I’ve thought this could be my last day, my last year, my last campaign. How am I going to go? Let’s go. That hasn’t really changed.”
Williams, yet to declare his intentions for next year and beyond, does have one slight regret, though. He would have preferred to have run out alongside his good mate and fellow midfielder Ma’a Nonu, but coach Leon MacDonald has elected to start Nonu on the reserves bench after a long and hard season.
He’s another one who has yet to reveal what he is doing next year; the Blues are assuming neither Williams nor Nonu will come back.
“This is the right team for us for the weekend,” MacDonald said. “We’ve got to respect Sonny and give him a good opportunity – he’s been working really hard in the background and Ma’a has carried a huge workload this year. He’s been beaten up, he doesn’t tell anybody, but he’s got a sore body and he just kept working for us while Sonny was recovering.”
Williams said of Nonu: “He’s been great, all credit to him. He’s 37, has come back and hasn’t missed a beat. I’ve been close to Skux for a long time. I’ve always admired the way he goes about his business on the field. Spending the season with him just shows how much of a professional he is off the field.
“It would have been nice to run out there with Skux another time but hopefully we’ll share some time on the field this weekend.”
Asked if today’s run was his final big training session for the Blues, Williams said: “You never say never. Only god knows that bro, so I’m just really focused on this week and trying to get a win with the boys and get some rugby.
“The body’s good, I’m ready to go. It’s been a long process with this injury but I’ve put all my faith in Allah. The time is right now.”
Williams has always had the capacity to surprise, whether it is via his offloads or defence or determination to break stereotypes. He recently graduated with a Bachelor in Applied Management (distinction) from Otago Polytechnic and said more study was a possibility.
Either way, he was determined to be a good role model for his children and other young people.
“I love leaders that lead, firstly through actions,” he said. “Having young kids, I didn’t have to study but I thought about it and I want my kids to grow up and be whatever they want to be.
“Yeah, they’re Pacific Islanders and that stereotype doesn’t open all doors for them, but if they want to [succeed], they need to understand that education plays a process in that.
“I never like to pigeonhole myself. With experience I understand the reach I can have, especially with young Islanders and Muslims.
“All options are open. I’m still a pretty keen competitor – I still like what I do.”
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.