World player of the year Sonny Bill Williams feels he has earned back the respect he lost when he controversially walked out on the Bulldogs in 2008.
Sonny Bill Williams was moved to tears at receiving an impromptu haka performance from his New Zealand teammates after being crowned the world’s best rugby league player.
And the dual international hopes to repay them by helping the Kiwis defend their World Cup title in Saturday’s final against Australia at Old Trafford.
Williams capped his spectacular return to the code by taking out the Rugby League International Federation player of the year in Manchester on Wednesday night, beating out fellow nominees Kangaroos star Greg Inglis and Scotland playmaker Danny Brough.
Sydney Roosters star Williams felt shocked and emotional when his teammates rose and performed the haka while he was on stage to receive the award.
And he considered it a further sign he’s earning back the respect he lost after controversially walking out on the game at Canterbury in 2008.
“That was definitely by far the best part of the night for me,” Williams said of his teammates’ gesture.
“I can’t remember the last time I cried but I was a little bit teary up there just seeing the brothers get up and show that respect.
“… All I want is respect. I felt like after the way I left the game I lost a lot of respect.
“But this year the way I tried to carry myself, just tried to get across the real me, I felt like I earned a lot of respect.
“The biggest thing for me is earning the respect of my fellow players and coaches. I think that’s why I was a little bit emotional.”
“But I said to them straight way `one more week’ and hopefully I can put in another strong performance and hopefully we can do it for the Kiwis.”
Williams helped the Roosters to the NRL premiership after returning to the code following five years spent in rugby union and boxing, during which he played 19 Tests for the All Blacks.
He has been in devastating form at the World Cup and is crucial to New Zealand’s hopes of upsetting the Kangaroos again.
In taking out the gong, Williams broke an Australian stranglehold on the honour with Billy Slater (2008, 2011), Jarryd Hayne (2009), Todd Carney (2010) and Cameron Smith (2012) previous winners since it was established six years ago.
Williams was one three Kiwis named in the team of the year at a ceremony at The Lowry Hotel in Manchester, along with winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and hooker Issac Luke.
Inglis was named at fullback in the side, while Manly’s Clive Churchill medallist Daly Cherry-Evans was named halfback of the year.
Sea Eagles centre Jamie Lyon and Brisbane veteran Corey Parker were the other Australians in the side.
South Sydney and England front rower George Burgess beat out Sydney Roosters backrower Boyd Cordner to be named rookie of the year while older brother Sam was best prop.
Super League player of the year Brough was the five-eighth of the year.
Trent Robinson was awarded coach of the year after guiding the Roosters to the NRL title in his first season in charge.