Star rugby league convert Israel Folau has confirmed he will leave the AFL after two seasons with Greater Western Sydney.
The 23-year-old fronted a Greater Western Sydney news conference on Thursday to announce he was leaving the club.
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'No surprise' as GWS recruit Israel Folau quits AFL
Our footy experts analyse Israel Folau's decision to quit the AFL.
Folau announced in June, 2010 he was joining the Giants and he played 13 games for them this year in their debut AFL season. He averaged just six possessions and one tackle per game. Playing as a key forward and occasional ruckman, he booted only two goals, and cut a forlorn figure as he struggled to read the game.
Although he had minimal on-field impact, securing Folau was a marketing coup for the AFL and their latest expansion team.
Giants chief executive David Matthews said the club supported the decision. He wished Folau all the best for the future saying he would a “friend of the Giants forever”.
He described Folau’s first season as containing “significant achievements’, saying he was part of the team’s first win against the Gold Coast Suns, and showed his best form in his final game, a loss to North Melbourne in round 23.
Matthews claimed Folau had “showed all the skill and flair required” to make it in the AFL.
He described Folau’s decision as “courageous” and said his club supported that decision. He said Folau was an “exceptionally popular person” at the Giants but the club was “not going to stand in his way.”
Giants coach Kevin Sheedy said Folau was “still not sure if he could be a great player [although] I think he could. We’ll all wonder for eternity”.
Folau said that he thought it was the right time to leave.
"In the end I didn’t quite have the passion there I would have been cheating myself…and the club,” Folau said. “I gave it my best shot the last few years.”
Folau left NRL club the Brisbane Broncos to join the AFL on a four-year deal worth approximately $6 million.
The former Australian rugby league representative is on the verge of joining the Parramatta Eels in the NRL under former NSW State of Origin coach Ricky Stuart.
However, Parramatta have denied signing Folau but admit he is a target now that he is available.
VIDEO: In his own words: Folau quits
Fairfax Media revealed in April the Eels were Folau's most likely destination if he were to switch back to the NRL. Eels recruitment manager Peter Nolan was the man instrumental in luring Folau from Melbourne Storm to Brisbane Broncos and it appears he has again got his man.
Ken Edwards, the newly appointed chief executive of the Eels football club, denied that a deal was done.
"He is the sort of player and person that we are certainly interested in," he said.
"We could see him fitting into the culture that we are building here and we could see him being a part of the club going forward.
"We would possibly have some salary cap issues in the first year we are yet to discuss with the NRL.
"We would be interested and we would seek to talk to his management."
Folau's brother, John, is already in the Eels system.
It is understood the Eels have made contact with his manager and will be keen to snap him up to bolster their backline after finishing with the NRL wooden spoon in 2012.
Folau first season in AFL football was in 2011 in the second-tier NEAFL competition, and he struggled with roles in defence before Sheedy began playing him up forward. Former Essendon legend Sheedy remained positive that Folau would improve in time, saying it was a "bit unfair" that he was compared to youngsters who had played Australian Rules football all their lives.
One former AFL key forward star backed Folau - in June Dermot Brereton labelled Folau's critics "naive".
The other former rugby league star signed up by the AFL at the beginning of its northern expansion, Karmichael Hunt, has fared much better for the Gold Coast Suns, impressing in his two seasons in the midfield, but he had a more solid grounding in the code as a youngster. Hunt remains committed to playing with the Suns, 34 games into his new career. In March, after Folau's humble debut, Hunt backed the big forward's capacity to succeed in the AFL.
Folau played 90 games in the NRL for Melbourne and Brisbane from 2007-10 before switching codes.
He made history as the youngest player to represent Queensland in rugby league’s State Of Origin and is also the youngest member of the Australian league team.
His return to league will fuel speculation that the Giants could recruit former Adelaide key forward Kurt Tippett through the national or pre-season drafts.
GWS have the No.1 picks in the two drafts and, with no Folau, they would have ample room in their salary cap to accommodate Tippett’s hefty asking price.
Adelaide are the subject of a major AFL investigation over draft tampering and salary cap breaches.
The investigation relates to Tippett’s last contract with the Crows, signed in 2009.
The Crows face massive penalties if the AFL rule against them.
Tippett wants to play for Sydney, but the Swans were unable to negotiate a deal with Adelaide during the trade period.
with Will Brodie, Adrian Proszenko, Fairfax Media and AAP