Hype builds ahead of first game for Sonny Bill Williams against his former club.
If anybody knows a thing or two about crossing Canterbury Bulldogs’ fans its Willie Mason.
Five years ago the former representative star was pelted with abuse and plastic bottles when he returned to play against the club that made him as household name as part of the Sydney Roosters.
Now it will be deju vu all over all again as Sonny-Bill Williams faces off against his former club, which he walked out on mid-way through the 2008 season to play rugby union.
Mason said the fans hate Williams more than they did him at the same time in their careers, and hoped his friend was ready for the abuse he is likely to cop.
“They hate him more than they hate me,” Mason said.
.”I’ve sort of made peace with Bulldogs fans since I left, but Sonny is yet to do so.”
Mason believes much of the hype before the game will be consigned to the fans, saying most of the current Bulldogs players were not with the club when Williams was last in blue and white.
“But the big difference is that I was playing against so many of my best mates who I won a premiership with a few years earlier. There’s no one at the Bulldogs who Sonny Bill played with at the club any more because he left five years ago. So there’s not the same rivalry on the field,” he said.
“It’s more Sonny Bill versus the fans, but the thing is he’s not playing the fans. He’s been out of the game for five years and is going really well.
“He’s a man of few words and lets his actions speak for themselves. I don’t think he will be that nervous, because there’s no reason to be nervous. He’s not playing against his old teammates, whereas that’s what I was most nervous about. So I don’t reckon he’ll give a s*** (about the hype).”
Greg Eastwood makes a welcome return for the Bulldogs, who lacked serious muscle through the middle of the field in their 20-6 loss to Manly last round.
However, the club could face some turnover with workhorse Aiden Tolman hinting he might move on next season.
At this stage the prop says he has not signed a new deal anywhere, despite claims he had been offered $2 million for four years by Parramatta, but said he simply wanted the best deal for his future.
“I haven’t heard anything about that, you guys (the media) seem to know more about it than I do,” Tolman said.
“I am off (contract) this year and my manager is doing the negotiations and I am leaving it up to him.
“But I need to go out and play the best footy I can and hopefully get the best contract.”
Roosters: Anthony Minichiello (c), Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Mitchell Aubusson, Sonny Bill Williams, Boyd Cordner. Interchange: Daniel Mortimer, Martin Kennedy, Isaac Liu, Aidan Guerra, Luke O’Donnell, Michael Oldfield
Bulldogs: Ben Barba, Mitch Brown, Josh Morris, Timoteo Lafai, Sam Perrett, Josh Reynolds, Kris Keating, Aiden Tolman, Michael Ennis, Martin Taupau, Tony Williams, Josh Jackson, Greg Eastwood. Interchange: Dene Halatau, Dale Finucane, Tim Browne, Frank Pritchard, David Klemmer