IF ANYONE epitomises the term ‘Aussie Battler’ on the sporting field, it is Ryan Williams and his brother Rhys.
The Williams boys have endured a fraught few years, but have overcome significant injury adversity to come out smiling again and few would begrudge them their new-found sense of well-being.
Stricken by a deep-seated and misdiagnosed groin problem in an 18-month injury misery at Barnsley, winger Ryan Williams – whose twin brother Aryn is a footballer with Indian I-League club Neroca FC – is casting aside his demons impressively in the red and white of Rotherham.
In the process, he is following in the path of big brother Rhys, who returned home to Australia in the summer of 2016 to rebuild his career after a desperately unfortunate time of it on the injury front at Middlesbrough, where he spent a spell as captain under Tony Mowbray.
The ex-Riverside player’s time on Teesside saw him suffer two ruptured Achilles tendons, with a separate major pelvic issue preventing him from playing for Australia at the 2010 World Cup. He spent more time in treatment rooms than he would care to mention.
So too has Ryan, although things are thankfully looking up.
While Ryan, a regular this season, gets ready for today’s Roses date with Rochdale, Rhys is thousands of miles away, preparing for the start of the new A-League campaign with new club Melbourne Victory against rivals Sydney FC today, having moved from Perth Glory in the off-season.
Given all the heartache of recent years, the phone calls are thankfully uplifting ones these days.
Williams told The Yorkshire Post: “We are really close and I spoke to him all the time when I was injured. He just said, ‘you will get through it, you are young’.
“He was a little bit older when he had his injuries. I remember he injured his Achilles and then ruptured it again in his first game back when no one was around him, playing for Middlesbrough at Barnsley.
“He got back playing and it gave me a lot of inspiration as I thought if he could do it, I could. And I have done that, to be fair.
“He has moved to Melbourne and they are the biggest club in Australia at the moment and he is enjoying his football again and got called back up to the national team a few months ago. The season starts this weekend and hopefully he will get back in the national team.
“We are both really enjoying it and doing everything possible to stay fit and healthy and that’s kind of all we can do. If I get injured even doing all this stuff, it is just bad luck, I suppose.”
Given his stint on the sidelines, Williams’s pragmatic approach is to be admired.
That said, he readily admits to having suffered some dark, difficult moments, with his time on the sidelines away from home being an ordeal at times.
It was the support of his family, friends and girlfriend that helped get him through it and he is now enjoying the feeling of being involved and playing an active role for the Millers, after being a bit-part player during his time across the Dearne Valley at Barnsley.
A peripheral figure during the Reds’ thrilling second half of the 2015-16 season when they achieved Wembley glory twice in 57 days, Williams remembers watching the play-off final in the early hours of the morning back in Australia, where he split his time between his home city of Perth and Adelaide, where his groin specialist was based.
While being naturally delighted for his team-mates, Williams is seeking to play a more active part in what he is hoping will be a promotion campaign at Rotherham – via the conventional route.
He said: “I would love to get promoted with Rotherham as I missed the JPT final and play-off final. To be fair, I’d rather avoid going to Wembley and go up automatically to save the hassle.
“I am really enjoying it here. I remember last year, it was October 22 when I played my first game for a year or something for Barnsley against Brentford.
“What a difference a year can make. I have been fit for well over a year now and it is good.
“I have got over that bit where people think of me with the injuries. Hopefully, that is behind me now.
“At times, I did contemplate going back and playing back in Australia as it would be a bit easier with less games.
“But me and my girlfriend stuck to it and she actually helped me and we are still here and it (England) is where I want to be for the remainder of my career.”
A human touch from Paul Warne also went a long way for Williams at the start of his time with his new club, with the Millers manager affording him a little bit of extra time off with his family back in Australia before starting his next journey with Rotherham.
Williams’s vibrant performances have certainly paid back Warne, with the winger very much looking an asset, given his early season form.
Williams, for his part, is hoping to continue to justify the faith that Warne showed him by handing him a two-year deal in the summer.
Williams added: “First and foremost, I had a conversation with him and he was a good guy.
“I was only at home for about three or four weeks and I said, ‘look, do you mind if I spend an extra week, just to spend a little bit of extra time with my family because I came back and for two weeks, I wasn’t doing anything’.
“He said, ‘I am a human being before I am a manager; if you need time with your family, that’s perfectly fine. I have got a family’.
“He’s a really nice guy and a good character and if you work hard for him, he will back you.
“On a personal note, I always believed that if I had games, I would perform and that is what has happened. The gaffer has got confidence in me and I am playing well at the moment and it is good.”