A bottle of vodka has never been a sign of professionalism in rugby league before but there has never been a player like Sonny Bill Williams.
After a number of serious knee and shoulder injuries early in his playing career with the Bulldogs, Williams [a teetotaller] is so meticulous in the way he takes care of his body that he stretches for 20 minutes when he awakes and again before he goes to bed, and during the day.
Chiefs technical adviser Wayne Smith, the man responsible for recruiting Williams to New Zealand for the All Blacks 2011 World Cup campaign, said the dual international also bought a NormaTec machine after he joined the Super Rugby franchise last year to aid recovery in his legs after training and games.
The Sydney Roosters star also ices regularly but when Fairfax Media visited the 28-year-old in France in 2009 he was so frustrated at being unable to find ice while playing for Toulon that he had searched the internet and discovered that by freezing vodka he could make a flexible gel pack.
‘‘That doesn’t surprise me,’’ Smith said.
‘‘You have got to know Sonny to understand how much the game means to him – whether it is league, rugby or boxing – and whatever he puts his mind to, his life revolves around that and performing well for that team.
‘‘He has looked at what that means off the field so his week revolves around being at his best for the weekend, and that is not just recovery.
’’He is a guy who does his homework and he sets some standards there; he write everything down, he looks at the [video] clips and he prepares well in terms of analysis of his own game.’’
At the Roosters, Williams was a positive influence on a young group of players, such as Roger Tuivasa-Schek and Dylan Nappa, and has helped reinforce the example set by the likes of Anthony Minichiello and the coaching staff.
‘‘He is not the only one doing it but we have got a lot of young guys in our squad and they really take notice of a guy of his calibre so for them to see how he prepares and the work that he does is a good thing,’’ Roosters assistant coach Craig Fitzgibbon said.
After a pectoral muscle tear sustained playing rugby union in Japan caused the postponement of his fight against Francois Botha until February, Williams joined the Roosters three weeks before the start of the season for his first NRL match in five years.
Given the hostility towards him after he walked out on Canterbury to join Toulon, Williams knew the critics would be lining up for him if his return had been anything less than spectacular.
‘‘Being him comes with some heat and some pressure so he always makes sure he is in the best shape to perform to the best of his ability each week,’’ Fitzgibbon said.
An example of that was the way he dealt with a glute muscle injury suffered at training the day before his first appearance at the Bulldogs home ground in round 15, when Mitchell Pearce, James Maloney and Michael Jennings were unavailable due to Origin duty.
He underwent round the clock physiotherapy and passed a fitness test just minutes before kick-off to take on the playmaking role in the Roosters’ 20-18 win.
Williams believes he sustained the injury because he fell asleep on the lounge the night before and went to bed without stretching.
‘‘I stayed with him over in Japan. When he wakes up he will stretch for 20 minutes before he does anything else,’’ his boxing trainer, Mick Akkawy, said.
‘‘Then we would head off to the gym to train and again he’d stretch for 20 minutes before training and after training and then when he comes home he would stretch and then every night before he goes to bed he will stretch for 20 minutes,’’ he said.
‘‘If you want to see someone who is disciplined, there is no better example.
‘‘Everything that goes into his body is good for his body so he takes account of everything. He writes things down so he is very organised,’’ Akkawy said.
Even if Sunday’s grand final against Manly is his last NRL game before he returns to the Chiefs, the influence Williams has had on his team-mates will benefit the Roosters for years to come.
‘‘He is a supreme athlete and his work ethic is through the roof,’’ Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargeaves said.