We had a sly eye on much of the Canterbury vs Northland game on Saturday night as we supped a lazy ale in a Wellington hostelry. And we have to say this; Sonny Bill Williams is an impressive creature. Three times in the first half he attacked the Northland defensive line; three times he drew multiple defenders; three times he slipped terrific passes to set up tries.
The guy is great at the offload, and because he's so big, strong and sure on his feet, that poses a big threat to teams who face him. There is real potential there; Richard Knowler from The Press notes:
The thing about Sonny Bill Williams is that he makes the difficult assignments on the rugby field look easy.
Some aspects of his play still require polishing, his decision-making at the breakdown – whether to commit, or hang off, and just where the gate starts and finishes – could be improved, but when it comes to ball carrying, unloading in the tackle or using his immense power to shrug off tacklers, Williams proved on Saturday he has the ability to kill defences.
During his rugby league career with the Bulldogs in Sydney, Williams' knack of untangling his arms and delivering the money ball to team-mates running off his shoulder proved invaluable. It is this skill, which is also a key in the All Blacks' ethos of keeping the ball alive on attack this year, that no doubt figured highly in the national coaches' minds as they wooed Williams back to New Zealand ahead of next year's World Cup.
At the Northland Events Centre on Saturday afternoon Williams' Canterbury team-mates quickly learned that if they swarm into the space around him they will be presented with a plum ball that will bolster their try-scoring totals.
It's great to finally see Williams out on the park, after all the injury dramas that followed his much-heralded arrival in Christchurch. And we can see why the All Black coaches are interested. The potential is there to become a very, very good midfielder.
Rugby smarts can be taught. We'll be watching SBW closely for the remainder of the ITM Cup season to see how he develops. The initial signs however are pretty promising.