Folau to Waratahs: Izz there a pun left?

Stuart Fazakerley December 3, 2012 45

No GravatarTomorrow at 9am, the NSW Waratahs will make a major announcement, expected to be the signing of former AFL lightweight NRL superstar, Israel Folau, to a one-year contract. Journalists, puns at the ready….

The 23-year-old centre winger ruck full-forward will join his third professional code in four years. Debuting with the Melbourne Storm in 2007, he was a revelation in league circles. Scoring 21 tries, the most in a debut season, he won the 2007 Dally M Rookie of the Year and the RLIF International Newcomer of the Year, and was part of the Storm’s premiership winning-the-last-game-of-the-year team. He was given his first international cap at the end of his first season, at just 18 years old. Over his four seasons in league, he represented Queensland eight times, and Australia eight times.

Then came the switch. At the end of 2010, Israel was linked to several NRL clubs, as well as the Melbourne Rebels, who sought to bring him back to Victoria. It was the AFL, of course, who won out, securing Folau for new expansion club the Greater Western Sydney Giants, in a deal believed to have been worth $6 million over four years. In switching codes, he followed former Brisbane Bronco Karmichael Hunt who had signed with the Gold Coast Suns.

Unlike Hunt, Folau had never played Aussie rules before, and faced the daunting task of learning a new game in 12 months. He played in the North East AFL in 2011 with Team GWS, and though he found a niche as a set-shot forward, kicking 25 goals in the 15-game season, the 360-degree nature of Australian football was clearly unnatural to him — for instance, he could not instinctively turn a defender to make a lead. He could run, and his tackling returned towards the end of the year, but in the rare times he found the ball, he just didn’t know what to do next.

His AFL debut in the charcoal and orange came in 2012, in the Sydney Derby at ANZ Stadium. Although 60,000 turned up, a fair few in GWS colours, what they saw on that night, and throughout the season, was what most had feared: he just didn’t get it. While there were some glimmers of hope, it reached the point where players from other teams were, incredibly, coaching him during games. When he walked away from the Giants at the end of 2012, this failing was all too apparent. He admitted he didn’t have the knowledge of the game, nor the passion to seek it out. His AFL sojourn had been a raving success off the field (GWS coach Kevin Sheedy once boasted that 70 per cent of jumpers sold had Folau’s number 4 on them) but in reality, it had been two years of talent wasted. Most recently, he reached out to Parramatta for a chance to return to rugby league, but, as soon as it appeared a deal might be done, he turned his back on them too.

Make no mistake, coming over to proper rugby will be far from a simple task. Folau will come to NSW a shadow of his former self. Given the massive weight loss he undertook to survive the AFL, he lacks some of the explosiveness that made him a household name in the NRL. His kicking and match fitness will have improved, but the Waratahs will need to be extremely careful about his conditioning. Remember, we are talking about a player who, for the past two years, has trained for and played a game he did not fully understand. This year in particular, he has been played sparingly, in positions that were not contested. (In his first year, he played against kids.)

Honestly, this is as if the Waratahs have signed any other rookie from GWS, because that’s exactly what they’ve done. While Israel will no doubt bring off-field benefits to the franchise, if they rush his preparation and debut for the 2013 season, it could turn into a very dangerous exercise, very quickly.

Rugby union will be Israel Folau’s chance at redemption. I hope he’s given every opportunity to take it.

What do you think of Israel Folau’s Super Rugby switch? Is he Michael Cheika’s missing piece of the puzzle, or another dubious Waratah signing?

Discussion

  • http://www.greenandgoldrugby.com/ Andrew Mosey

    Great news, both off the field and if they get the conditioning right we’ll have someone to chase and retrieve all those kicks

  • Munks

    Folau’s signing will only add to the incompetency of the Waratahs. Who wouldn’t love it?!

  • http://twitter.com/Spewphemism Scott Rowe

    Top article Stu. Nice to see all the embedded links. As someone who does not follow AFL at all, most of that was news to me.

  • Tangawizi

    Izzy better than Jonah?

    Hopefully that’s the question were all asking next season.

    Good luck to him – more than enough talent to make it and his signing will probably sell an extra 10,000 tickets to the Reds v Tahs for the QRU.

    • Dougall

      Why would you even bring that up? A stupid comparison.

    • Bobas

      Better than Jonah,
      Georgina Robinson is teaching him how to goose step.

  • rossco

    How much weight has he lost ? You make it sound like he has been in a POW camp and needs to be wrapped in cotton wool

    The guy is 23, a phenomenal athlete and the season doesn’t even start for 2 – 3 months…. sounds like he needs to man up and just get on with it.

    We know he is damned fast from League. He should have a very decent kick from AFL. He has very good hands. He will have great aerobic fitness. Frankly, that puts him ahead of a few of the incumbent Wallaby backline.

    Unless the guy can’t tackle to save his life or is a complete moron, there should be no real impediment to him having a great season at the Tahs.

    By all accounts he is a thoroughly decent bloke. Personally I hope he becomes the Wallaby version on Sonny Bill.

    • Ruggamuffin

      Spot on mate

    • Stuart Fazakerley

      He lost about 15kgs before the start of the 2012 season. I’d definitely be wrapping him in cotton wool until he gains that bulk back.

      • Patrick

        Right, so he only weighs as much as Dom Shipperly, and he’ll start the season at Digby Ioane weight.

        But hey, bring out the cotton wool!

        :)

        • Stuart Fazakerley

          Hahahaha true-ché. My point is that this transition is going to be as hard as his transition to the AFL if not managed correctly.

    • Parra

      Spot on about SBW. We had a chance to make him a Wallaby but we missed it. Look what he did for the All Blacks. Could this be SBW II? On the downside of course there’s always the risk of making another spontaneous career move just when he starts getting good – back to the NRL would be the obvious choice (might be just biding his time until 2014 season when the NRL clubs have open rosters again and more than 2 days’ notice) or to boxing for example!

      • Des Conner

        I thought Quade was SBW II, true Quade told me!

  • Ruggamad78

    This is exciting stuff both for the game and him, he gets the chance to become famous again and the waratahs will fill out some of those empty seats! He will find this transition much easier than the last one. I’m a loyal Reds supporter but will definitely watch a Tahs game now…

  • Tahzan

    So who now misses out in your Tahs back line if Izzy is a success? Turner, Mitchell, Horne, AAC, Barnes, Foley? The pressure would only be a good thing. I hope for that reason alone that he’s a screaming success!

    • Piggy

      10. Foley
      11. Turner/Mitchell
      12. Barnes
      13. AAC
      14. Izzy
      15. Turner/Mitchell

      • Parra

        If (lot’s of them and very large ones) this works out he has to play in the centres. That is still the problem area for the Wallabies. What about Barnes to full back (where he’s done well lately and can chime in in a play-maker roll from time to time to steady the ship). Folau 12.

        • Piggy

          You need to remember what Izzy was as a mungo – a finisher with good aerial skills. He wasn’t a playmaker and he couldn’t read the play in AFL. He’s unlikely to be a good distributer. So maybe I agree with you, he seems like a perfect 12 for the Tahd

        • Dave

          Ah, I see what you did there.

      • http://www.facebook.com/giles.gibbins Giles Gibbins

        What about Rob Horne… who is technically the wallabies first choice 13 when not injured (which is always)
        and also Tom Kingston who had a fantastic year???
        TOO MANY OUTSIDE BACKS IN ONE TEAM!

    • bill

      I think it’d be worth trying him at 15, more involvement. Not sure if he’s enough of a ball player for that position but technically he should be ok. I think he’d be better there than shoving Mitchell or Turner out of a wing spot.

  • Piggy

    Bob Dwyer will just love another drop punt kicker at the Waratahs…

    • Tom Carter

      I’m just geed there will be another drop kick.

  • NormanRalph

    Hope this is all true and not just smoke and mirrors! It would be a massive coup for the tahs if they sign him and a much needed spark for rugby in Oz.
    I think he’ll give it a crack and if it goes well he’ll head to Nz to try and make the AB’s next year. If it doesn’t work he’ll go back to NRL…smart move really!

  • Who Needs Melon

    Give him a 6 months or so and I’m sure he will be back to his best. Just in time for the end of the season and for him to switch to… [spins wheel]… NFL! You heard it here first.

  • Redsfan1

    Not that I rate the kick-a-thon Waratahs but the ARU & Deans does. Which makes me question the Tahs team under the new salary cap? I can see they are still trying to buy a premiership rather then develop a team.. And will fail yet again.

  • Johnny-boy

    In his last year with the Broncos Folau was incredibly ordinary. Didn’t do a thing except in his last game where he did try a bit harder. It would be miraculous if he just walked in to the Waratahs Super XV side and grasped the complexities of rugby in a flash, despite having some rugby background. It tooks SBW a couple of years and he was much more intuitive than Folau. I’d be very surprised if he didn’t get caught out positionally.

    • Tangawizi

      “He did not do a thing” – apart from 17 tries in 16 matches.

      • Johnny-boy

        And how many of those tries did he create as opposed to falling over the line on the end of a pass. Answer. I’m guessing zero.

        • Bobas

          Being in the right position at the right time is something that not all wingers know It takes a while to develop and so it is something McCabe hasn’t learnt due to his premature move inside.

  • Jack Package’

    Izzy seems pretty passionless and will probably lack conditioning… needless to say he is the perfect fit for the tahs

    • The Rant

      AFL players are typically the fittest on the planet.. so hopefully he’s not too far off the pace. And hopefully the AFl has taught him how to kick and take the highball

      • Mart

        Take a high ball!?! That’s why the Afl signed him in the first place

  • The Rolling Maul

    Ricky Ponting is available now too. And Lance Armstrong. Plenty of other talent coming up soon too. Check out http://therollingmaul.blogspot.com.au/ where I go into this in a lot more detail.

  • Roscoe Tims

    Two years ago when he was about to switch codes I had a bash at him and all things mungo, arguing that we didn’t need any more of his type coming over to union: http://www.greenandgoldrugby.com/izzy-or-isnt-he-izzymania-is-overated/

    This time I’ve changed my mind. And the reasons for that are:

    1. Because he hasn’t been topped up by the ARU. Let’s not waste national rugby union funds on someone who may just be passing through the game or in the end, not up to it. They’re actually not throwing mega-bucks at this guy.

    2. He’s signed a one year contract. This is a positive in terms of deciding whether he’s an asset or not in union. If not, he can be terminated with extreme prejudice or he can elect to go if he’s not happy Jan. If he shows promise then perhaps the ARU can get into the act. Try before you buy…

    3. With a grounding in league and an increase in skills he’s picked up in the AFL (ball handling, kicking, spatial awareness, aerobic fitness etc) he might actually turn out to be a reasonable purchase. I’d like to see him succeed but it’s going to take time. It’d be nice to somehow introduce him to the game via Sevens (although probably not practical)?

    4. We aren’t overly endowed with international class outside backs – would love to see this guy develop into an outside centre of note. Not so much an Oz SBW but a powerful, skillful player to step into the shoes of Snorky.

    5. Yep. Although he’s lost some lustre this is going to be a winner with the kids from Western Sydney and Queensland.

    6. All round low risk investment. Cheika obviously thinks he can do something with this guy and the Tahs probably need a bit of bling to lift their long suffering fans.

    I’m all for it this time.

    • Roscoe Tims

      The ARU have now announced that there was a top up. Speculation is of around $100,000 so I suppose that’s minimal when compared to previous signings.

  • JKB

    Quade Cooper : lead the reds to the 2011 title, close to the best winning percentage of any wallaby 5/8, played professional rugby union for the last 6 years :price=$400K + match fees for the Wallabies

    Izzy : zero achievement or experience in rugby: price= $1million

    …definitely makes perfect sense

  • Queenslander

    Fair dinkum he is in their 30 contracted players but will be lucky to make firsts. Another mungo who will be stood up by any half decent opponent like Tahu before him. The filthy Tahs will stick him on the wing and he will be completely lost in both D and general play. How quickly we forget the years Lote spent turning the ball over every time he was tackled. Taking a NSW spot of a good rugby kid coming through is why the Tahs will be also rans once again. clueless and I am loving it.

    • Waratah Mike

      Like Wendell with Reds? Or Clinton Schfoske or Will Chambers? How about Berrick? All these guys took spots from young rugby players too. Don’t just accuse the Tahs of this when the Reds have been doing it for years….

  • bill

    I have no doubts Izzy will adapt, or would if he got any ball to get involved. It’s a bit questionable that will happen with the way the tah’s and wallabies have played.

    Will Chambers is pretty handy but still looked lost for the first year or so, except for running some pretty nice lines in support of Quade. His involvement in general play and getting stuck in at ruck and maul looked fragile. It was a shame went, thought he was starting to play some good football.

    As for conditioning, some guys can stack it back on pretty easily, in terms of muscle bulk, I’d think Izzy is one of them. And in the meantime, well, he’s got long levers, that’ll help him cope.

    He is a talented player though and worth a look. I’d be guessing he’ll learn a bit about rugby and then go to europe or back to league. I just don’t know that he’s going to learn a real lot at the tah’s. Cheika should improve that prospect though.

    Are we useing the 5 second rule in super rugby next year?

    • bill

      Hawker is flagging useing him in 7′s which actually makes a shitload of sense.

  • Tom

    As a rugby fan living in Victoria I love this. He has raped a heap of money from afl, then come to union for peanuts. Wish the rebels snared him. Good luck I hope he is great and sticks around.
    Suck shit Andrew Demitriou you lost this round

  • http://twitter.com/LeftArmSpinner LeftArmSpinner

    Well, first off, it is a good thing! Why, well, he has reportedly played rugby before. there will still be a learning curve, second, the tahs need outside backs. Sadly, Drew Mitchell is not his former self, Horne is injury prone due to his inability to measure his hits and finally, the tahs need a draw card.

    Izzie is something/someone that will give the sydney crowd something to watch. a bold move. and bold moves display courage and lateral thinking. Just the mindset that the players need to adopt!

    I support and applaud Jason Allen and Michael Cheika……now it has to be made to work.

  • http://twitter.com/LeftArmSpinner LeftArmSpinner

    I was also amazed by the angry ant performance of Ricky Stuart. I had hoped that he had calmed down but , he is still off the planet. He criticised falau for his behaviour, yet his vitriolic childish behaviour was truly appalling.

  • vron

    Put him at 15 and watch him take the highball. He will be the only Australian not allergic to it.

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