Sonny Bill Williams' shock call on rugby league vs union debate

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Sonny Bill Williams is pictured here during his time in rugby league (left) and rugby union (right).
Sonny Bill Williams was a champion in both the 13-a-side and 15-a-side rugby codes. Pic: Getty

They have been going at it for over 100 years.

Rugby union v rugby league – which game is the best to play and watch?

It's a debate that has ruined many a night at the pub, the chicken parmies flying through the air as mates almost come to blows defending their code of choice.

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Sonny Bill Williams is the latest to wade into a debate, the sporting equivalent of expressing your views on the Palestine-Israel situation.  

Now, it must be said, SBW was appearing on a Kiwi rugby program - Sky Sports' The Breakdown.

We're pretty sure it's enshrined in the New Zealand constitution you don’t bag rugby, especially if you've worn the famous black jumper.

And while he didn’t officially bring the gavel down in favour of rugby, the dual international seemed to lean heavily towards the 15-man game.

Asked to weigh up both codes, SBW said: "The closest that they get in similarity is they are played on the same ground.

Seen here, Sonny Bill Williams performing commentary duties for television.
Sonny Bill Williams gave a fascinating personal insight into the age-old rugby league vs union debate. Pic: Getty

"Besides that, they are two totally different games.

"I grew up as a rugby league man so I struggled to understand rugby (union) when I first came to the game.

"I grew to love it because you (start to) understand it. Rugby league is pretty much your defence or your attack, whereas (in) rugby union every facet of play you can attack and defend at the same time.

"You make a tackle and while you're making that tackle you can attack the ball and there's a chance you might get a turnover, which turns into counter attack.

"When I really understood the game I really loved it."

SBW's point about possession being contested at every breakdown in rugby is regularly used in the pro-union argument.

Rugby league in comparison, according to its critics, is a predictable five tackles and kick affair.

Study shows one big difference between league and union

So why is rugby, in Australia at least, such a hard sell to rusted-on league fans?

Look no further than ball-in-play times.

A recent study showed the ball is in play for around 78 per cent of a league match compared to 35 per cent in rugby.

It sounds about right.

I watched every minute of the Wallabies' winter Bledisloe/Rugby Championship campaign and had to put foam around the remote to save it from regular hidings.

There was some great rugby played but the lack of continuity in play and urgency from referees to keep the game flowing brought on peak frustration.

The re-setting of scrums, time taken to kick goals, stoppages for medicals teams to tend to every bump and strain, video referee consultations that time more time than an office Zoom meeting – some games were lucky to finish before breakfast.

In one match, an Argentine forward got down on one knee and proceeded to do up his bootlaces at the pace of a three-year-old while chatting to the ref.

Sorry for the three-minute hold-up, sir.

No problem, No.4, happy to oblige.

League has plenty of design flaws but the emphasis is on keeping the game flowing, the action pretty much non-stop. 

Does that make it a better game than union?

Your call.

I've worn too many chicken parmies to stick my neck out again.

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