Epilogue to a Tragedy

Filed in Other by on December 10, 2010

For good or ill, and probably good, the whole sordid drama has reached its conclusion. The curtain has been drawn on a modern day sporting tragedy, a sad parable of unquenchable greed and the indifference of the modern athlete to notions of history, loyalty, decency and gratitude. All that is left to do now is to write the epilogue. This wordsmith shall pen the final words and that will be that. The protagonist, now dead to all those involved in rugby league, will never again (for the foreseeable future, at any rate) be mentioned by this author once these final words have dried.

It was, of course, money that ended this tale, just as it was money that had began it. The circle appeared complete. A feeling of hollowness, however, was felt by most in the audience as we looked on with feelings of melancholy and gloom at the insipid finale. It was not an unexpected last act, however. Most tales finish with a whimper. That is reality. Life, as they say. The high watermark of emotion usually resides well before the finish and by the time the last page of the script is reached, the stream is but a dribble.

There was no protracted court case or jail term, no international man hunt or airport arrest, no seizure of assets or challenges to the salary cap. In the end, the Bulldogs were paid off, a simple and expensive purchase of freedom. It was the prudent decision for the Bulldogs to make, though it left the vindictive and zealous among us a little flat. We wanted blood and the head of Sonny Bill Williams stuffed and mounted and hung at NRL headquarters as a reminder of the consequences of treason. It would be our Tower Hill and he would be our Robert Devereux. That was the dream, at any rate.

Though the Bulldogs and the NRL held all the cards, they realised that there was little to be gained from dragging the saga out. Sonny Bill Williams was never going to pull on a Bulldogs jersey again nor would he have ever been afforded such an honour. Had the Bulldogs walked the road of bones they would have claimed a larger moral victory but the cost would have been great both financially and in terms of domestic stability. Williams and his coterie of petty thugs could have been stripped bare and left to rot in a prison cell but the Bulldogs would have gained little from such an outcome.

By taking the cash, the Bulldogs leave victors both financially and morally. They have taken upwards of $850,000 in cash from a man whose only god is money, leaving them about $600,000 to the good after legal fees have been factored in. It also allows the Bulldogs to start fresh in 2009, the last selfish greedhead cast to the wind.

There is no doubt the loss of such serious coin will hurt Williams and his camp considering how much adoration they have for the almighty dollar. His camp thought they could buy the Bulldogs off for a measly $200,000. They were sorely mistaken. Todd Greenberg and George Peponis were so insulted by the initial offer that they reportedly packed up and left the negotiating table. The Williams camp, the seriousness of the situation finally dawning on them, had little choice but to jack up the number. When you have a pair of deuces and you know your opponent as three ladies, you have very little room to move.

The fact Williams has been explicitly prohibited from playing in the NRL until at least 2013 combined with utterances from David Gallop that he will never be welcomed back will hurt him financially even further as he will no longer have rugby league as leverage when negotiating future rugby contracts. It is certainly hoped that now the legal proceedings have finished that the NRL will enshrine its lifetime ban of Williams. The prospect of the ill-feeling towards him dissipating and him being allowed to play again is too awful to consider.

Williams’s last act of employing former Labor Party numbers man and renowned upstanding citizen Graham Richardson as the middleman in negotiations with the Bulldogs only further tarnished what little remained of his reputation. That is the same Graham Richardson who was alleged to have played a role in the Peter Baldwin assault (allegations, it should be noted, that were never proven), the same Graham Richardson who was embroiled in the Love Boat scandal, the same Graham Richardson who was forced to resign from his ministry over the Marshall Islands affair, the same Graham Richardson who was implicated in the Cash For Comment scandal and the same Graham Richardson who has become entangled in allegations of tax evasion. It should probably come as no surprise that Khoder Nasser would call on Richardson to act for Williams. Birds of a feather, as they say, flock together. It was an insulting final play by the Williams entourage, one of great cheapness that merely sought to reinforce the pragmatic and low-rent nature of the grubby entourage.

With the benefit of some perspective, there seem to be few in rugby league who are upset that Williams is gone. If anything, after watching the true nature of the man emerge for the world to see, it appears to be a blessing that he is no longer part of the noble game of rugby league.

The game, as a sport, will continue on in all its brutal beauty. As a cultural institution, rugby league will remain the dominant winter code of New South Wales and Queensland and will do so for time immemorial. It will take a lot more than the loss of one player to do even the slightest of damage to the code.

In terms of talent, Williams will be replaced with some ease, just as rugby league has consistently replenished its talent throughout the years. Lewis, Kenny, Lamb and Lyons handed over to Fittler and Daley who in turned passed the baton onto Darren Lockyer. Sterling and Mortimer are the direct descendants of Thurston and Prince, both of whom were preceded by Johns and Stuart and Langer. It is the nature of rugby league. The game is never starved for talent and as such, no individual is bigger than the sport. There are better players than Williams in rugby league, most of who play with more courage and leave a more indelible impression on the hearts and minds of rugby league diehards.

The Bulldogs, as an organisation, are no doubt pleased to leave this sorry saga behind them and move forward knowing the slate is clean. The Bulldogs have been in a constant state of drama throughout this decade, no doubt a legacy of poor recruitment decisions based too much on on-field talent and not enough on the nature of the person. Players like Williams and Willie Mason would never have made it when Peter Moore ran the club and Chris Anderson called the shots. They certainly would not have been kept at Belmore at the expense of players like Steve Price.

To the credit of Todd Greenberg and new recruitment manager Peter Mulholland, they have recognised that the problems at Canterbury throughout the decade have been a direct result of bringing in selfish individuals with little understanding of the concept of the team and have sought to turn things around by bringing in good people. One need only look at the 2009 recruitment class to see that the previous statement is a pure truism. Ben Hannant is a prop who plays with great heart and jaw-dropping courage, a wonderful front row prospect renowned for hard work. Brett Kimmorley is reaching the back-end of his career but is a player with a sharp brain who has always exemplified professionalism. Josh Morris is an exciting prospect from a solid rugby league family. The same can be said for Bryson Goodwin. Michael Ennis is an on-field niggler but he plays the game hard and is adored by his teammates. Darius Boyd and Shane Rodney, two hard-working and level-headed players, are also likely to be playing in the blue and white next season.

The likes of Ben Roberts and Reni Maitua remain but for the first time since last century, the selfish and the weak-willed have been outnumbered by the selfless and the strong. It will only be a matter of time before the recidivists are sent packing, allowed to run amok on their own time and with their own coin.

And that is probably that. All has been said, all has been done. Canterbury and rugby league took the high road and came out victors. They didn’t get the prize of Williams’ head but they made a nice sum and they get the slate wiped clean. Williams will now make a globetrotting journey, selling his ass to the highest bidder until he is of no value, just another junk ridden whore past their prime. He will now just be hoping those knees hold firm. The going rate for cripples these days is not real high, particularly cripples with the moral rectitude of a rat king.

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