Tony Williams hopes good health and a united team will help him return to the stellar form he displayed in 2012. Copyright: Robb Cox/NRL Photos. Credit: Copyright: Robb Cox/NRL Photos. Copyright: Copyright: Robb Cox/NRL Photos.
Tony Williams was tackling and running over the issues of bullying at Sydney's East Hills Primary School as part of the NRL's community carnival on Monday when a little girl unassumingly piped up from near the back of the room.
"Why do they call you T-Rex?" she asked.
Smart question. Given the back-rower wasn't doing any tackling of note or running over of any kind last year, the lass was either being innocently naive or a precocious little thing.
We concluded it was the former but, either way, it was a question all fans would like answered.
Because the Williams wearing the blue and white last season was definitely not the one that wore the maroon and white the year before.
The differences between those two players were like night and day. Or, more pointedly, modern day and prehistoric.
And the now-second-year Bulldog knows it.
"I didn't have the best year last year, it was probably my worst year," Williams, part of the Bulldogs' squad for the Auckland Nines, told NRL.com. "You can always improve, but I don't think I can get any worse. I need to do more for my team-mates and my club to get better."
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Williams, 25, pointed to a number of factors that contributed to having the worst of his six years as a first-grader.
Firstly, there was that nagging ankle injury that reduced the two-time NSW Origin representative to nothing more than an impact player instead of the 80-minute force he intended to become when re-uniting with coach Des Hasler.
"With the ankle last year, it limited me so I couldn't play big minutes [he averaged 63 per game]. But it's better this year. They cleaned it out and I'm pretty confident in it and hopefully I can get better," he said.
"I had arthroscopic surgery on my ankle [in the off-season] to clean out some of the old stuff that was there. There's still a bit more rehab and strengthening to do, but it's coming along pretty good.
"It wasn't good last year. It didn't help with the performances, but there was a lot more than that."
Which brings him to the second issue, and his mid-season admission that he was struggling to fit into the Bulldogs' flat attacking style.
"Once you've had a year and you know where you need to improve, it makes it easier for you to get better. I know now, with the shape that we've got, we'll be more successful this year," he said.
"I doubted myself a couple of times [last year], but it didn't faze me. I had a lot going on last year. A new club, with all its challenges... I had a kid, too. There were a few dramas in the team as well.
"There was a lot going on, but I'm pretty confident this year there are no dramas. Fingers crossed there's none of that!"
The five-time Kangaroo didn't exactly single out the dramatic events that led to Ben Barba's exit from Belmore, but it was clear Williams was bothered by the biggest distraction that impacted the Bulldogs' charge to the finals.
Asked what his sole focus was ahead of the upcoming season, Williams said: "Just being together, I guess. I don't think we were quite a team last year. But this year, it's all about getting all the players together, being closer and loving each other more. So on the field we'd die for each other.
"We've bonded more this year. It wasn't the best last year and we know that as a team we didn't perform to the best of our ability. We had a few dramas off field. This year we're much closer and we're ready to improve."
Williams was solid in a 40-minute hit-out against the Rabbitohs last Sunday. In fact, the closer we looked, the closer he reminded us of the old T-Rex.
"Brett Finch gave me that name," Williams told the little girl. "My name started with 'T' and I looked like a dinosaur, so it made sense."
He may not have the jagged teeth but all the other indications are promising for Bulldogs fans: the prehistoric beast could well be back.