He’s here! SBW touches down after long flight
"Welcome to the Roosters!"
A lone Sydney Roosters fan shouted proudly at Sonny Bill Williams as the cross-code superstar emerged from a long-haul flight ahead of his highly anticipated NRL return for the glamour club.
Sporting a face mask and his youngest child, fast asleep, strapped to his broad chest, Williams and the rest of his family touched down on Australian soil late on Thursday night on a Qatar Airways flight from Doha.
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"It's good to be home, it's been a long flight," was all a clearly tired Williams could offer the large waiting media pack.
Despite his exhaustion Williams obliged the lone Roosters fan with a selfie.
On a normal night, Sydney Airport would be a hive of activity but in the COVID era the international terminal was deserted, except for a large media pack.
Rather than be ushered away through a secret exit, Williams, his wife Alana and their four children in tow boarded awaiting buses alongside other passengers.
The jet-lagged family who had started their journey in Manchester were taken from the airport to their temporary new home - a three bedroom penthouse with views of Sydney Tower and glimpses of the harbour.
Williams will now spend the next 14 days in mandatory quarantine at the luxury hotel before he can join the Tricolours in their training bubble.
The NRL's head of government relations Jaymes Boland-Rudder had spoken with his political connections to ensure the family was accommodated in comfort at the Pitt St Meriton.
The Sydney Roosters' sports science staff arrived earlier in the day to set up a home gym so Williams can get stuck into a five-week crash fitness course to get his body prepared for the most anticipated NRL comeback in years.
His agent, Khoder Nasser, dropped in supplies SBW had asked for.
Coach Trent Robinson told News Corp Australia the champion forward had been given a training schedule and will work regularly with the club's strength and conditioning team.
Staff will take him through sessions via Zoom video link-ups.
He will be sent training videos from cameras at both ends of the ground to study the various moves and patterns.
"Our staff are ready to take him through our programs," Robinson said.
"We're coaching him while he's in there. Stretching, conditioning, weights, footy … the lot.
"We'll send him some video from training and our games.
"Our philosophy hasn't changed but our game has evolved.
"But he knows what we're doing and has been watching most of our games."
Asked about his comeback date, Robinson hinted it would be round 17 against the Canberra Raiders in the national capital. It would be Williams' first NRL match since running out for the Roosters in a preliminary final against South Sydney in September of 2014.
"We're not entirely sure but maybe three weeks once he's out of isolation," Robinson said.
That gives the champion forward five weeks.
SBW told News Corp Australia on Wednesday he'd need time to prepare.
"I've been in holiday mode and travelling around Europe with my family," he said.
"The other boys will have been in the competition for 14 or 15 weeks.
"That's the great challenge for me."
Williams is still technically contracted to English Super League outfit the Toronto Wolfpack on a two-year deal reported to be worth around $10 million dollars.
But the Wolfpack were forced to withdraw from the England-based competition amid financial pressures that the COVID-19 pandemic has heaped on the club.
The decision opened the door for Williams to sign a short-term deal with the Roosters but with restrictions on players from holding more than one contract at a time, Williams and the Bondi club required an exemption from the NRL.
ARL Commission Chairman Peter V'landys granted the exemption to allow the Roosters to add Williams to their top 30 roster for season 2020.
Williams' arrival could not have come at a better time for the premiers - who are looking to secure the first ever title three-peat in the NRL era.
The game is facing an injury crisis with one in five NRL players currently unavailable to injury. The Bondi club have not been immune to the havoc a pandemic affected season has had on squads across the competition.
The Roosters have at least seven first grade players out injured including flyers Brett Morris (back) and Daniel Tupou (ankle); and rising hooker Sam Verrills (ACL).
But it's coach Trent Robinson's forward pack that has taken a significant hit and where Williams' recruitment coup will add the most respite.
Skipper Boyd Cordner is sidelined with on-going concussion concerns and it is expected he will be rested at different stages during the season. Lock forward Victor Radley is out with a season ending ACL injury and backrower Angus Crichton is unavailable with a knee injury.
Originally published as He's here! SBW touches down after long flight