While Sonny Bill Williams might feel safe in the confines of his French surroundings, his contempt of court in NSW is set to cost him his Carringbah 1.2m home and various other local assets he still has in place.
The NSW courts might not have the power of jurisdiction over his French soil, but it seems SBW’s decision to not send a representative to court could cost him in terms of assets and on-going fines locally.
It’s not not a question of forcing Sonny Bill Williams to play Rugby League or rejoining the Bulldogs; it’s a case of a contracted person breaking his agreement without communication to his employer, exiting the country and refusing to adhere to a court attendance request.
In another interesting twist, the Bulldogs are continuing to pay wages to Sonny Bill Williams in the hope of forcing the star player to see out the remaining four years of his contract despite fleeing to France.
During the NSW Supreme Court hearing, which placed an injunction on Williams banning him from playing with Toulon, it was revealed the July instalment for his $400,000 a-year contract was banked on August 1.
Williams left Australia on July 26, two days before the Bulldogs’ match against St George Illawarra.
Lawyers for the Bulldogs told Justice Robert Austin they would not only continue to pay Williams, but if he came back to Sydney he would be picked to play for the club.
Outside the court, Bulldogs chief executive Todd Greenberg said he did not think that would be a problem even though Williams went on Channel Nine’s The Footy Show on Thursday night criticising coach Steve Folkes and saying he had been unhappy at the Bulldogs “for a while”.
“What we’ll do is continue to uphold our end of the bargain, until such time as Sonny comes and talks to us and tells us otherwise,” Greenberg said.
Williams said he wanted to play under former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga, the coach at Toulon, and to become an All Black himself one day.
Greenberg did not rule out letting Williams go to fulfil that dream but said he had obligations to the Bulldogs first.
“What we would do is have the conversation,” Greenberg said.
“One of the things we’ve always been open to is to discuss all his concerns with us – put everything on the table.
“When we’ve had that opportunity to talk to both him and his manager previously, that (playing for All Blacks) hasn’t been said.
“We thought we were making progress on issues Sonny Bill had raised. If he’s got other issues, then raise them with us and we’ll deal with them accordingly.”
NSW Supreme Court officers will now try to serve the injunction papers on behalf of the Bulldogs and the NRL, preventing Williams from playing for any other club or code.
The 23-year-old played for Toulon overnight. If the papers were not served on Williams before kick-off, he would be free to play.
But with the papers served, and Williams playing he is in contempt of court and can have his $1.3million Sydney home seized.
NRL lawyer Tony O’Reilly said neither the league nor the club would speculate on whether Williams would comply with the injunction. But he drove home the message behind the court ruling.
“We expect him to comply with the order of the court,” O’Reilly said.
“Orders of the court aren’t like referees telling players to stay on side. Court orders are serious matters and people who are responsible comply with them.”
Despite winning the initial 12-day legal battle against Williams, Greenberg said it was no time for rejoicing.
“Firstly let me say that despite various messages from our legal experts, this is certainly not a particularly joyful occasion for the Bulldogs,” he said.
“In fact it’s relatively sad that we’re in a position of being in court when what we should be doing is filling stadiums and running our football club.
“It is, however, a victory for the sanctity of a contract; it’s a victory for a commitment that one person makes to another.
“I think it’s as simple as that.”
NRL chief executive David Gallop welcomed the decision in upholding the strength of player contracts.
“There have been numerous attempts to distract the game from the fundamental issue, which is that a contract is a binding commitment on the part of both the player and the club,” Gallop said.
“It protects both parties and places responsibilities on both parties.”
Williams had no legal representation in court.
“He had an opportunity today to put his side on what was going to be an important application for him. I can’t speculate as to why he didn’t turn up today,” O’Reilly said.
It is understood the French courts have no role to play in the Williams legal saga.
If he defies the NSW Supreme Court, it could order him to appear to explain himself or begin fining him for every day he remains in contempt.
That money would go to the NSW government and not to the Bulldogs or the NRL.