He was named in the 2008 Toyota Cup team of the year in the centres, but just three years later Tony Williams has transformed into a premiership-winning back-rower and is set to make his debut for Australia.
Williams is still glowing from a breakout year that culminated in Manly’s 24-10 grand final victory over the Warriors, where he started in the second-row.
“I was stoked with the grand final win, then it got read out that I was in the Kangaroos squad and I was over the moon,” Williams told NRL.com.
“Then they named me in the actual team to play New Zealand and you don’t get that opportunity every day. It was an awesome feeling.
“I never thought I would represent Australia, but now I know that anything can happen if you put your mind to it. It hasn’t sunk in yet. Just walking around in the hallways seeing the boys, it is amazing.
“It is not just special for me, but my family as well. It is going to be an awesome atmosphere and I can’t wait to get out there.”
Williams came to Manly from Parramatta as a large damaging winger, but inconsistent performances were an issue he had to address.
The move to the second row proved a masterstroke from Manly coach Des Hasler and the “T-Rex” was unleashed in the club's triumphant finals campaign. Once in the pack, Williams demonstrated the damaging potential he had as a ball runner and it ultimately led to him getting the call-up to play for the Kangaroos.
“I had experience in the back-row while player juniors,” he said.
“I thought I would be playing there a lot sooner than I have been, but it has happened this year and it has worked well.
“The club has been very special for me. Des Hasler, the coaching staff and the players they have helped me ever since I have been there. They are a confidence team and they gave me confidence to do my best.”
There is no question that Williams has revelled in his position amongst the forwards and he is shaping to be an important impact player for the Kangaroos as they prepare to face the Kiwis at Newcastle's AusGrid Stadium on Sunday.
International football allows 12 interchanges per game (unlike the NRL’s 10), which could see Tim Sheens look to unleash Williams for short bursts during the game.
“You can’t hide in the back row, it’s not like the wing,” Williams said.
“I love getting the ball and having a run at the line. Hopefully I can play well and get on top of them.
“It doesn’t really matter who I verse, every time we go to the football field I want to play well and win. The opposition doesn’t matter. It won’t change the way I play.”
Williams is off-contract at the Sea Eagles but has built a special bond with his teammates and hopes they can stick together at the Northern Beaches. He credits the development and rapid rise of his game to the help of fellow Kangaroo Anthony Watmough and Clive Churchill Medal winner Glenn Stewart.
“They have a lot of experience and they are workhorses and hopefully I can get to that stage to get to that work rate,” he said.
“Those guys are special to me, we are very tight at Manly, and hopefully we can stay together.”