Sydney - He has been cast as a mercenary and a villain by many, but there cannot be any doubting his pulling power.
According to the stuff.co.nz website, Sonny Bill Williams, who was accused of selling out on the Bulldogs,
may now sell out Allianz Stadium, giving the NRL a record start to this
NRL and Sydney Roosters officials are hopeful the club's round-one
season opener on March 7 against South Sydney, Williams's first match
for his new team, will be sold out.
The hype around Williams's debut already had ticket sales tracking
well, but the performances of the two sides in their final trials over
the weekend - the Roosters' 28-16 win over Wests Tigers in the
Foundation Cup and the Rabbitohs' 28-10 victory over St George Illawarra
in the Charity Shield - have officials expecting a further surge in
ticket sales this week.''I'd love nothing more than to put the sold-out sign up. It's
probably a little too early to tell whether it will be. This time next
week, we may have a better idea.''
A sellout would mean a crowd close to the stadium's capacity of
45,500, and a record for the Roosters in a home-and-away match.
Their SCG match against St George Illawarra in 2010 drew 37,994, a record for Roosters non-finals matches.
''It would be great to see a sellout,'' an NRL spokesperson said.
''It's the first match and the first round, and there's the Sonny Bill
factor. But you can never make those sorts of predictions.''
It remains an unknown how supporters will respond to a Thursday
night match but the television ratings for trial matches show the
appetite for the start of the NRL season is significant.
Friday night's Charity Shield match was the highest-rating contest
over a busy weekend of televised sport on pay television, drawing
240 000 viewers.
The Foundation Cup - featuring an impressive Roosters side, without
Williams but including other new signings James Maloney, Michael
Jennings and Luke O'Donnell, dispose of the Tigers - drew 173 000,
although the crowd at Allianz Stadium was small largely because of poor
In comparison, Israel Folau's Super Rugby debut with the Waratahs
against the Reds drew 174 000 viewers, giving rugby union the
equivalent, perhaps appropriately, of a win by a late penalty goal over
the NRL trial, screened on the same night.
The strong ratings for the Foundation Cup came despite the fact that
Williams, who controversially walked out on the Bulldogs in 2008 to
play rugby union, was sitting on the sidelines. Roosters coach Trent
Robinson erred on the side of caution with the star signing, deciding to
give him more time off the field as he recovers from a pectoral injury.
Robinson remained confident Williams would be fit to play the Rabbitohs.
The Roosters emerged relatively unscathed from their final hit-out
before round one; Daniel Mortimer required eight stitches to a cut under
his right eye, but is not expected to be in any doubt for the season