A Giant waste of time and effort?
Israel Folau handballs for the Giants during a match against Fremantle last season. Photo: Getty Images
Back in the pre-season, the critics came for Israel Folau.
He looked all at sea playing AFL: a powerhouse which couldn't find its switch, a reservoir of potentially destructive energy lying dormant. Watching him, one was reminded how difficult a game AFL is to play — how much of it depends on instinct, and knowing when to attack the ball and when to hold back. Especially for a newcomer to a barren forward line in a struggling, youthful team.
It seemed Folau had, at best, just a couple of genuine opportunities each quarter in which he was given an opportunity to compete. It felt unfair, watching him, and one could point to the inauspicious debuts of key positon greats such as Jonathan Brown to highlight how difficult it can be for a big newcomer — one who might eventually go on to bigger things.
But by the end of the season, it was apparent that Folau needed more time — in a much more congenial place than the GWS firsts — before he would be competitive at AFL level. And, yes, maybe he would never measure up. It was blindingly obvious, in fact ... he rarely got to more than two meaningful contests per quarter, and he didn't know how to stay involved in play without being sent into the ruck.
So he leaves the code too soon for us to ever know if he could have made it as a mature-aged recruit. About the only thing we can definitely draw from the experiment is that it takes more than just physical attributes and hard work to make it as a forward in the AFL.
Certainly a lot more than money and hope.
Maybe it needed love? Kids who love footy and spend a childhood scrapping and jumping in competitive packs gradually learn all the tricks Israel needed to know. That's what we call "instinct" when those kids grow up and we watch them play senior football.
As an imposing, clean-living, well-paid rugby league champion, Israel had most of the attributes one needs to be a success in the AFL.
Everything except one priceless, totally free asset.
A life-long love of the game.