Williams' last chance with club he loves
The Tony Williams story started as you'd expect it to be. But it took a twist.
Kid from humble beginnings makes it in the big time. Makes big money. Achieves big things. Everything about the man they dubbed "T-Rex" was big.
"I was young and things were going good," Williams remembers.
"I thought everything was always going to be all right. I was on top of the world."
But like many before him, the fame and fortune began to take its toll. He crumbled under the heavy burden of expectation. And the criticism only grew louder.
"I've got a lot of regrets," Williams told NRL.com as he continues his comeback from an ACL injury.
"I didn't handle myself right – making Australia and that. But to be the best, you have to stay consistent and I didn't do that."
Williams talks about how he wasn't ready. How "it happened too quick".
As a teenage wrecking ball at the Parramatta Eels, Williams left his junior club for the high life on the northern beaches, agreeing to a deal with the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles.
It is there, in a winning team surrounded by players with a winning mentality, Williams developed into one of the most destructive forwards in the Telstra Premiership.
The rep honours came. Origin. Australia. And so too did his big pay day, following coach Des Hasler to the Bulldogs on a mammoth deal.
It's then the regrets started piling up.
"It all happened quick, playing for Australia and Origin at a young age – it probably got to me," he admits.
"Which happens to a lot of players … Having to hold expectations of what I did at Manly and what I was going to do for the [Bulldogs] – it just got to me. Pressure, and stuff like that. But I have no excuse."
He had a short-lived stint at the Cronulla Sharks last season but now he's come back to where it all began. Back to Parramatta. The club he has "always loved".
But he also comes back trying to prove he is not damaged goods. Williams knows this is his last chance.
He's coming off a season in which he played just one game from the bench at the Sharks before a knee injury playing for Tonga in the mid-season Pacific Test ended his campaign.
He was on the NRL scrapheap, trying to find a way back to right the wrongs of a career littered with regret.
Enter Brad Arthur and the Eels.
"I'm surprised he took me in," a brutally honest Williams said.
"The last couple of years haven't been my best and I've been injured most of the time. I think I've played something like close to 30 games in three years. It was a big risk for him. And I'm grateful he's willing to take the risk with me. I'm willing to pay back his faith. I think he's confident that he will get me there. I think we had a bond in that way.
"I'm lucky enough that I have done what I did in the past. I think they based it on what I did in the past. If anyone can get me back I believe Brad Arthur will get me there. I'm in a good place. I'm happy. I'm happy to be back and be around the boys. If I'm happy off field, my job on the field will be a lot easier."
There's a common frustration from fans in regards to Williams.
Many struggled to comprehend why a man with such a colossal frame didn't just run off the back fence. Give himself some room, and just run.
"The game is more than that. It doesn't matter how big you are or small you are," Williams said.
"It's about how you go about things on the field. If it was based on size, all the big players would be the best in the world, wouldn't they? Look at JT and Cameron Smith – are they the biggest players?"
Most have also written off any chance of Williams returning to his former glory.
But the man himself isn't short on confidence, gaining a far greater appreciation for the opportunity that has been presented to him because of what he has endured throughout a tumultuous career.
It's why he is adamant he isn't just taking a walk down memory lane at the Eels, confident he can return to his best.
"I truly believe I can," he said.
"If I can get this knee right, I should be right. I'm hoping I can get a trial in. Depending on how I go from now until February will give me that timeline.
"I've been in first grade for 10 years. It's flown. I'm not getting younger. It's happened so quick. The beauty of it is I can change things. I get a chance to do my best again for the team and do the best for me and my family. It possibly will be my last chance. I'll make the most of it for myself and my family."