The world remembers Sonny Bill Williams was “ashamed and embarrassed” as his own chief executive declared his career was hanging by a thread following his infamous toilet cubicle tryst with Candice Warner.
The world also remembers the way Williams returned to the NRL a changed man when he first signed with the Roosters in 2013.
His story is often told as a wild superstar given too much too soon before hitting rock bottom and returning as a conquering hero.
That story forgets the entire first act of the saga.
The truth of the 35-year-old’s resurrection ahead of his second comeback to the NRL with the Roosters against the Raiders in Canberra on Saturday night after six years away is that the Bulldogs were both the source of and solution to his early-career crisis.
Williams has spoken countless times about his corruption at the hands of Canterbury’s work-hard, play-hard culture.
When he left the Bulldogs in the greatest walk-out scandal the game has ever known to jump ship to French Rugby despite having more than four years left on a $2 million contract he was not the same person that arrived at the club as a 16-year-old from New Zealand.
“When I was a youngster, I fell off. I never touched alcohol until I made first grade,’’ he said in 2013.
“Growing up I was really dedicated to my craft and just wanted to be best I could be.
“I lost my way for a couple of years there but I’m proud to say I’m proud of the man I see in the mirror.’’
Williams won a premiership with the Bulldogs in his first season playing in the NRL at the age of 18, slotting into one of the best teams the NRL has ever seen.
An impressionable teenager Williams was seduced almost immediately.
In 2005 he was fined $10,000 for the Bulldogs when he pleaded guilty to drink driving while on his P-Plate.
His license was suspended for five months.
In 2007 he was fined by police for urinating in public and then hit rock bottom when news of his drunken toilet cubicle tryst with former ironwoman star Candice Falzon inside a Kings Cross nightclub made headlines around the world.
Williams was in a long-term relationship with ex-girlfriend Genna Shaw at the time — leading Williams to give an emotional front page confession that he was “ashamed and embarrassed” by the scandal.
It was the scandal that planted the seeds for Williams’ transformation into the textbook role model the world knows him as today.
In that same year he gave up alcohol for six months — his first of many booze bans until his eventual decision to give up the drink entirely after converting to his Muslim faith.
The scandal also planted the seeds for his infamous walk out on the Bulldogs 12 months later.
Williams was forced by the club to admit he had a drinking problem — something he says he never had — after a third alcohol-related incident left his career at a crossroads, according to former Bulldogs boss Malcolm Noad.
“It has also been pointed out to Sonny that should there be any further incidents he’s in danger of cutting short a very promising career,” Noad said at the time.
Williams’ response showed even then his career at the club was on borrowed time.
“I got hung out to dry,” Williams said of the club’s reported decision to make him announce that he would seek help.
“The CEO says stand here and say that,” Williams said. “It’s like you’ve been naughty and that’s just the fastest way to make it right. I was very pissed off that I had to say I had a drinking problem because the only problem I had was being naive.”
As reported this week by The Daily Telegraph’sJamie Pandaram, Williams’ desertion was a twisted, complex dispute — but ultimately could have been solved if the Bulldogs had agreed to pay the $90,000 interest owing on Williams’ Caringbah home.
The Bulldogs held tight on the contract in place and Williams boarded a flight to France.
It was revealed at the time Anthony Mundine and agent Khoder Nasser were behind Williams’ defection after Williams also abandoned his former management.
It was claimed at the time the pair brainwashed Williams.
What they actually did was mould him into the player that will walk out onto GIO Stadium on Saturday night as one of the most admired and respected athletes in the country.
Shortly after linking with Nasser in 2008, Williams converted to Islam.
With a clean slate in French Rugby, Williams talked the talk and walked the walk, abstaining from alcohol on the spot — something he has never wavered from 11-years later.
“The first thing I cut down was no drinking, then from no drinking you cut down being out late, you’re up early in the morning,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald in 2011.
“You get those looks from the boys like, ‘What are you doing?’
“I’ve had obviously the drink-driving, the thing with Candice [Warner] in the toilet, getting caught pissing in the alleyway, but those things have made me who I am today, I wouldn’t change that,” Williams says.
“If I hadn’t done those mistakes I probably wouldn’t have stopped drinking. It’s difficult because you’ve had it, you’ve experienced those highs and having a laugh, that’s why you miss it. But it’s not difficult aside from that, I know I’m better off without it. I don’t make stupid mistakes, my body feels better without it.
“If I hadn’t made those mistakes because I was blind … for me it’s like a 360. I never used to drink until I was 18, until I played first grade for Canterbury.”
This was the man that was so revered in his first return to the Roosters that the entire team went on a booze ban during the 2013 season as they went on to win the NRL premiership.
In 2014 his resurrection was completed by the whirlwind romance and marriage to Alana Raffie in a secret ceremony after just a six-month courtship.
The couple have since welcomed four children — daughter Iman, 5, daughter, Aisha, 4, son Zaid, 2, and seven-month-old son Essa.
The beautiful family would never have grown so perfectly without those mistakes that turned Williams’ life around.