CHAMPION goalkicker Matthew Lloyd has cast doubt on Israel Folau's future in the AFL, and fears giving the rugby league convert ''token'' games could stifle the development of young Greater Western Sydney forwards Jonathon Patton and Jeremy Cameron.
Lloyd, who mentored both Cameron and Patton as juniors at the Australian Institute of Sport, says playing Folau would only ''get in the way'' of the Giants duo becoming the league's most lethal one-two punch in the future.
But his view was countered by his former coach at Essendon, GWS coach Kevin Sheedy, who is adamant there is room for all three key forwards.
Just because Folau did not rise through the normal AFL developmental ranks should not mean his unique talent deserved less opportunity to flourish, Sheedy said last night.
Lloyd told The Age yesterday that the Giants had no choice but to play No.1 draft pick Patton alongside Cameron as much as possible, leaving Folau as high-priced insurance in case of injury.
''If Cameron had have gone into the draft, he would have fought Patton for the No. 1 pick. That's how highly those two are rated,'' Lloyd said of the pair, who have already been compared to himself and former Bombers teammate Scott Lucas after Patton's impressive debut against Richmond on Saturday.
''So you've just got to play them week in and week out and I just don't see how Israel fits in,'' he said.
''I understand there is pressure to play him [Folau], but if it was purely a football decision, I don't think there is a position at all I would play him in.
''I think they are going to be in a compromised position for the next 18 months, picking him for promotional purposes more than playing purposes.''
Lloyd, who disagrees with Sheedy's contention that all three can play in the one forward line, said he would be surprised if Folau stayed in the AFL when his contract expires at the end of 2014.
''Unless he improved dramatically and he's got a real desire and passion to keep going … he would just look across and see Patton and Cameron and all the other great key-position players they've got and think to himself, if I'm trying to beat these guys for a spot I'm kidding myself,'' said the Coleman medallist, who kicked 926 goals for Essendon.
Folau has two years to run on his lucrative contract, and GWS - which is expected to re-sign several key youngsters this week - is delighted with his progress and his work promoting the game in the rugby league stronghold.
''No one knows what's going to happen,'' Sheedy told The Age last night. ''If you never make decisions and you don't try to develop people from other sports, then you never know what we are missing out on.
''Look at what happened with indigenous players, or the Irishmen. Somebody said then that you are wasting your time.''
Sheedy said Lloyd was entitled to his opinion, before pointing out that ''he has never coached and never put a list together.''
''He's not a risk-taker, otherwise he would be trying league coaching,'' he said.
It is understood that Folau, who is on the way back from a hamstring injury, is undecided about his future post-2014, and his management won't enter into contract negotiations until the middle of next year.
''If he makes a good fist of it, then he will probably be like [Gold Coast's] Karmichael Hunt and extend his contract,'' Folau's agent David Riolo said yesterday. But he admitted there was always ''plenty of interest'' from NRL clubs.
One factor in whether Folau will continue to play AFL could be that when he comes out of contract, the NRL will have negotiated a new broadcast deal. That will give its clubs more salary cap room and more money to throw at the former rugby league star.
Lloyd said he believed Folau had served his initial purpose to lift the club's profile in western Sydney. But he said the Giants' future success would work against him, predicting Sheedy will come under pressure next year to drop Folau to give its young stars more game time as GWS wins more games.