SBW sees lighter side to Thorn identity


“Bro, give me a weight and I’ll bench it after training.”

“You’ve got to bench 140kg like your life depends on it!”

“Ok, I’ll do it.”

An exuberant Williams continues, impersonating Thorn’s hoarse voice, while making it clear he didn’t know if he’d be able to move that amount of weight.

“We get to training and I forget all about it,” Williams says. “We walk off the field at Wellington and in the gym all I hear is, ‘Sonny! Get in here now!’

“So I walk into the gym and he’s got the bench set up. That’s Thorny for you.”

Did Williams get the bar up?

“Of course bro,” the dual international says with a laugh. “I couldn’t let him get it over me.

Serial winner: Brad Thorn

Serial winner: Brad Thorn Credit:John Cowpland

“I remember his dry sense of humour. I grew up in Australia and got the sense of humour. We really gave each other stick. He used to call me things I probably can’t repeat but I used to give him crap too.”

To say Williams respects Thorn is an understatement. The two share a bond forged over years of hard work on rugby’s biggest stages.

Ten years ago they felt the anguish of defeat at the hands of the Reds, who recorded a famous 18-13 win, sealed by Will Genia’s 65-metre solo effort.

“That was a great season,” Williams said. “We fell one short but Quade [Cooper] and the lads were a bit too good for us on the night. It was a whirlwind game. I remember walking into the stadium and it being packed and everyone being so vocal.”

Thorn, a proud Queenslander, had a decorated career with the Broncos and in the State of Origin arena before his switch to the 15-man game.

He had this to say after full-time in 2011, while wearing a Crusaders jersey, not Reds attire.

“To see Queensland rugby so strong, it’s exciting and there’s a part of me that appreciates that,” Thorn said.

A decade on, Williams will be interviewing Thorn for Stan Sport before the most important match of the proud Queenslander’s coaching career, against the Brumbies.

“I’m always one to push the boundaries and spaces we’re not supposed to get into. Thorny has definitely done that,” Williams said.

Sonny Bill Williams is tackled by Reds player Anthony Faingaa in the 2011 decider.

Sonny Bill Williams is tackled by Reds player Anthony Faingaa in the 2011 decider. Credit:Reuters

“It’s weird thinking back where we’ve both gone in the last 10 years from that point – him being a head coach and me doing what I’m doing. I didn’t think anyone would believe that is what would happen in our journeys.

“He’s broken the norm. No one would have thought a forward and rugby league convert could make it. People would say he’s a meat head, he doesn’t know anything about footy. They put us in that bracket. He was able to branch out and what he’s done is special. I commend him for that.

“He’s done really well with the Reds and I wish the brother all the best.”

Before COVID-19 struck last year, there was speculation the Queensland Rugby Union board might not renew Thorn’s contract. It’d been a tough few years at the helm and results hadn’t been forthcoming.

Allan Alaalatoa and James O’Connor ahead of Saturday’s Super Rugby decider.

Allan Alaalatoa and James O’Connor ahead of Saturday’s Super Rugby decider. Credit:Brendan Hertel/QRU

Now with two consecutive finals under his belt, Thorn’s perseverance has paid off. Just like his playing days, he wasn’t going to give up.

“It hasn’t been all roses for Thorny,” Williams said. “He’s had a really tough few years. He stuck in there. He’s started to turn the tide and come good.

“For him to achieve what he’s achieved, he’s had to have had that determination. When he came across to rugby they were looking at playing him as a No.6 or a No.8. He understood that the way he played the game wasn’t going to suit that style, so he worked out that lock was his position.

“He understood he’d have to do things a little bit different as a coach and he’s done that because the Reds wouldn’t be here right now if he didn’t. He wouldn’t be saying everyone has to squat this or bench that.

“Last year they lost the final which would have been tough for them but I’m sure he wants to go one step further.”

Williams pauses when asked who he thinks will be crowned champions. It’s 50-50, he says.

“It’s going to be a close one bro,” Williams says. “Even though the Reds have pipped them in the last two games, for 95 per cent of the games the Brumbies were winning.

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“Man, even if I really wanted to tip someone, I think you’d flip a coin. It’ll make for an interesting final.

“I’m just really excited to be sideline in that atmosphere. There’s nothing quite like a sold out Suncorp Stadium when all the fans are pretty much on top of you.”

There might even be a handshake or a hug between two of the greatest cross-code players of their generation if the Reds can sneak a win in front of 40,000 passionate Queenslanders, all behind one of their favourite sons.

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