After one of the great controversial Grand Finals last year, the second match between the Canberra Raiders and Sydney Roosters was always going to be big with the reigning champions coming away 18-6 winners.
But despite the two teams are battling for the top four in 2020, the insanely hyped return of Sonny Bill Williams threatened to overshadow the game.
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While social media jokes of running updates about live updates of every move of the returning 35-year-old star weren’t too far off the mark, it just showed the interest that has followed SBW his entire career.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson finally gave him a shot to get on the field with 22 minutes left in the game.
Having played in the NRL across two stints, playing for the All Blacks in between and only getting another shot back in the NRL after the COVID-19 pandemic allowed him to get out of his $10 million Toronto Wolfpack deal to return to the game.
There was undoubted excitement for his return having seen what he‘s done in the game but he was never going to have a long stint in his return fixture.
He lasted just 14 minutes with seven runs for 37m, six tackles and one offload from his first hit up back in the NRL, according to stats from NRL.com.
But while the excitement, threatened to engulf the game, reigning Dally M Medallist James Tedesco has put in an absolute masterclass.
His 26 runs for 227m, two line breaks and 15 tackle breaks, to go with his two tries, Tedesco was outstanding.
“I know we‘ve got Sonny Bill back tonight but while he’s been away James Tedesco may have emerged as the best player on the planet,” Andrew Voss screamed as Tedesco scored his second try of the night.
Tedesco did it all himself as well, kicking with the deflection falling just for him to regather and cross for the four pointer.
“All the talk has been about Sonny Bill Williams and rightly so but the no. 1 man in the game has really stood up,” Cooper Cronk said in commentary.
Williams even praised Tedesco, comparing him favourably with the athletes he‘s seen around the world.
“(He‘s) right up there,” Williams said on Fox League. ”When it comes to Teddy, I didn’t know what to expect, obviously one of the best players in the world for the last few years. Just his demeanour, the way he approaches the game, he’s a pretty kick back chill kind of guy but I’ve had some really deep interesting conversations with him so a lot more than meets the eye with Teddy.”
With the interest surrounding Williams’ return, it was loud in the press conference with Robinson needing to calm the room when he arrived.
“Sonny’s got this aura around him off the field, I think which is why the interest in the game,” he said. “I think so many people are interested in the game, New Zealand, Australia, England, France, it would have been all those countries we want to go to in the game. He’s got this aura around him, this presence that’s rare.
“But then inside the dressing rooms we feel that but we feel that as a player, as a teammate, he’s such a good guy, he’s a teammate and his thing is that there’s not a separation between him and the other guys.”
Robinson agreed with a question over whether the media scrutiny was just water off a duck’s back.
It appears to be Robinson’s latest masterstroke to take the pressure of his back-to-back champions as they chase a third straight title.