Manly have come a long way as an entity to contest tonight's World Club Challenge against Leeds, but nobody has come further and faster than the winger they call The Wolfman. A year ago, David Williams was plucked from playing in front of a handful of people in Parramatta's lower grades.
It was, fittingly, another of rugby league's bearded heroes who was responsible. "Noel Cleal was in charge of recruitment for Manly, the job he used to do for Parramatta, and he must have thought I had something to offer," Williams says.
The intervening 12 months have seen him establish himself as a first-teamer, win a Grand Final, mark his Australian debut with a hat-trick of tries and play in a World Cup final. "I'm pretty pleased with the way things have worked out," he says laconically. "Plenty of games I'll always remem-ber – and this will be another one."
Williams is an old-fashioned style of winger, whose instinct is to hug the touchline, but he has the physique to go through opponents rather than round them should the need arise. "They say I'm a forward trapped in a winger's body," he says.
Williams' World Cup chance came when Australia's selectors preferred him to his team-mate Michael Robertson, who scored a hat-trick in the Grand Final demolition of Melbourne. "I thought Michael was really unlucky not to be picked, but he went on to play really well at full-back for Scotland," says Williams, reflecting on the rather odd qualification arrangements for that tournament.
Against Leeds at Elland Road, Williams and Robertson will occupy the two wing positions, with Brett Stewart as last line. That's enough to ring alarm bells for Scott Donald, a Manly wingman himself before he joined the Rhinos three years ago.
"I've met up with Brett while he's been over here and he's a magnificent player," says Donald, who might have to play full-back himself, since Brent Webb is out and Lee Smith may not be fit for an injury-hit Leeds.
More likely, he will be facing one or other of the Sea Eagles' wingers. "Michael Robertson was around and he was always going to be a good player with his great finishing," Donald says. "David Williams has just burst on to the scene but I do know that he's an extremely hard runner of the ball."
That Manly back three is one reason why they are widely tipped to end five years of British success in the World Club Challenge by winning at Elland Road tonight.
One Leeds player who will be doubly keen to prevent that is Jamie Jones-Buchanan, a lifelong Leeds United supporter who once worked as a waiter in the hospitality suites at the ground. "To me, it's a special place," he says. "Even more special than playing at Old Trafford."Reuse content