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Tough lessons driving Williams to finish on his own terms

Tony Williams could've gone off into the wilderness and be remembered as a former young star who never truly capitalised on his potential.

He could be remembered as the player who ruptured his ACL twice in as many years, reverted to drugs and alcohol and never returned to the game after his most recent stint at Parramatta.

After all, his last three years in the NRL included a 12-week suspension after testing positive to a recreation drug under a second warning, a drink driving offence, and just six first grade appearances.

It's a far cry from when he was winning premierships at the Sea Eagles while transitioning from an Australian representative winger to back-rower in 2012.

"I have had many regrets in the past," Williams told NRL.com.

"It was just a whole lot dumb stuff on my behalf, obviously at Parra in particular. There were plenty of things I could've done better.

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"I accomplished so much at a young age and it got to me that I didn't think I could achieve any more. I thought I was going to do that for the rest of my career and it didn't happen.

"I let myself down and faded. The pressure got to me and I couldn't handle it."

Almost a decade on since leaving the Northern Beaches, Williams finds himself back at the club's Narrabeen headquarters.

The only recognisable faces are Des Hasler and Daly Cherry-Evans.

Manly were eager to use Williams during their finals series in 2019 after he signed with Blacktown on a reserve grade deal.

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While the swansong didn't work out, the 31-year-old's return was complete when Hasler offered him a one year base deal in November.

"It's good to be back, I knew I had something to prove to myself, not to anyone else but myself," Williams said.

"That was the goal. I had a year off, or you could say three years off with two ACL's and the suspension but felt I have so much more to give to the game.

"I didn't want to die wondering or retire and have any more regrets. I know I can't walk into the team, look what they did last year. I've just got to treat it like it's my debut again."

Williams admits he's still a work in progress off the paddock. Every day is a challenge.

He has three children under the age of six and his days consist of 4.30am wake-up calls and a 90-minute commute to Narrabeen.

He's not complaining but rather ruing what might've been if he done things differently.

"It's a lot harder off-field than it is on field. You hear most players say it but it's true," Williams said.

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"If you are stable off the paddock then footy is the easy bit. You've got talent to play but you don't have talent in living life, you learn as you go.

"It's little steps and I'm still learning. I try and teach the younger boys because I wouldn't want them to go through what I went through.

"And it's a lot better now to be honest with that, the NRL does a lot more now than what it was like before around handling yourself and managing money.

"The more focused players stay at the highest level the longest time."

Asked what the immediate future holds in terms of his role in Hasler's side, Williams is in the dark.

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It's unfamiliar territory but he's also got faith things will work out.

"I love him, we've always had a relationship," Williams said of Hasler. 

"I've known him for 11 years and I respect him a lot. He's done a lot for me in my career but he doesn't ever give much away.

"I could be the best player or trainer and he wouldn't give you any indication. He's good at getting the winning mentality into a team and giving you a level head.

"He's been there many times and won a few grand finals. Hopefully I stay out of rehab for the rest of the year and can help him out where I can."