COLLINGWOOD great Tony Shaw says it was a mistake to attempt to morph Israel Folau into a competent AFL player, claiming the league should have concentrated only on developing fellow rugby-league convert Karmichael Hunt.
While chief executive Andrew Demetriou has declared Folau had made an enormous contribution to the AFL, Shaw, who has spent time working in a development role at clubs, says Folau's $1 million-a-year wage, including a large marketing component outside of the salary cap as an ambassador for the sport, could have been spent elsewhere.
Folau yesterday confirmed what the industry felt inevitable when he terminated his four-year contract after only two years, having failed to adjust to the skills and nuances required to play AFL in his 13 matches for Greater Western Sydney, the last against North Melbourne in round 23.
Code breaker: GWS coach Kevin Sheedy and rugby league convert Israel Folau. Photo: Getty Images
He would finish the year with only two goals, 39 kicks, 41 handballs, 18 tackles and 65 hit-outs, predominantly as a key forward.
Having admitted he lacked the passion to forge an AFL career, and initially angered established senior players and senior coaches in the AFL because of his hefty salary when he signed in 2010, Folau is now expected to return to the NRL but also has offers from rugby union.
''Long term, I don't mind going down the track with one [former league player], but I thought going down the track with two was wrong because of the money involved,'' Shaw said.
''If you want to get the message out there that anybody [from other sports] can play the game, I think everybody knows that now.
''One [convert] was enough to do what you wanted to do. Folau hasn't worked, and on that money, and the time that could have been put into young kids, I do think they made a mistake on the second one [Folau].''
Hunt, from the Gold Coast Suns, has been an experiment that has worked. He had the advantage of having played AFL in his junior years.
''I always really worry about things like that in development. For the money that was involved - and I know a lot of it was out of the salary cap - you can utilise that money on a lot of other areas, on coaches, on other things,'' Shaw said.
In what could be perceived as a damning comment as to why he was really seduced into joining the Giants, Folau said: ''In the end, the passion wasn't quite there and, I think if I was staying, I guess I was kind of cheating myself, so I had to be honest and move forward.''
However, what Folau did do was help attract interest in the northern states dominated by the NRL.
''Israel Folau has been a terrific ambassador for our game in the past two years and his courageous decision to give AFL football a go has helped inspire many children, particularly in New South Wales and Queensland, to play and watch Australian football,'' Demetriou said. ''Naturally, we are sad to see Israel leave the AFL community, but we understand and respect his decision.''
Dermott Brereton, who had worked as a part-time forwards coach for the Giants, said Folau needed more time to adjust to his new sport.
Coach Kevin Sheedy agreed. ''It's disappointing from the point of view of losing a player [with the] job not done, really,'' he said.
''After his last game [against North Melbourne], it was one of those games that left you hanging to say this guy could be something in our AFL team.''
A US holiday with good friends and rugby league players Jarryd Hayne, Tim Mannah and and Joseph Paulo sewed the seeds for Israel Folau's return to the NRL next season with Parramatta.
Folau spent two weeks away with the Eels stars. Luring the former Storm and Broncos star back to the NRL had been discussed at Parramatta for 18 months and attempts to recruit him stepped up after Ricky Stuart's appointment as coach in August.
Stuart's association with Folau goes back to 2007, when the then-Kangaroos coach chose him in 2007 to make his Test debut as at 18 years and 184 days old - making him the youngest player to have represented Australia.