ISRAEL Folau may have turned his back on a lucrative rugby league career in part because he was to be used as an anti-AFL propaganda tool.
The code-hopping Folau, who in a shock move this week signed a one-year contract with Super Rugby team the NSW Waratahs rather than, as had been expected, sign with NRL team Parramatta, was uncomfortable with the prospect of criticising AFL football after spending two years with expansion club Greater Western Sydney.
''I think there is an underlying comment out there that the NRL wanted him to bag the AFL, and he wouldn't do it,'' GWS coach Kevin Sheedy said on Wednesday.
Israel Folau has been described as a man of integrity by Kevin Sheedy. Photo: Getty Images
''Maybe Israel Folau was being asked not only to sign with NRL, but also to bag the AFL. I don't think he felt comfortable with that at all.''
Another source claimed Folau had been told he would be expected to renounce his involvement with GWS, state publicly that he regretted having switched codes and become a figurehead for aggressive promotional campaigns in the west. But, having spent the past two years playing the reverse role for the AFL and GWS, Folau was reluctant to be used in the same manner again.
Sheedy has been an interested observer of the backlash from the rugby league world which followed Folau's snubbing of the Eels' offer, which came only after the club and league officials had spent time working out how to fit him inside the salary cap.
''You don't know with NRL clubs, they're a mess upon themselves, just amazing. At least with us [AFL] you have a crack at each other and it's over and done with and you move on,'' Sheedy said.
''There's not one person in the AFL I'm disenchanted with in my life, but up here it's forever. One minute [when Folau left rugby league for the Giants] they've just about banned him, and the next minute they want him back … they've got to sort themselves out, don't they?''
Sheedy said being used in such a manner by rugby league would not have sat well with Folau, for whom he offered strong support. The former Essendon coach vouched for Folau's integrity, comparing it to the strength of character of his Richmond premiership teammates Francis Bourke, Kevin Bartlett and Michael Green, and his former players at Essendon in Simon Madden and Tim Watson.
He said Folau's signing for the Waratahs on a deal worth about $250,000, well below what Parramatta was offering and a huge amount less than his four-year deal with the Giants, should have dispelled suggestions he was a sporting mercenary. Folau would have pocketed $6 million if he'd seen out his contract with the Giants.
The NRL has dismissed any suggestion Folau was asked to take part in an anti-AFL marketing campaign. An NRL spokesman said that no NRL officials had met Folau since he left GWS, and that the only contact had been with his agent. ''We didn't want [him] to be involved in any point-scoring exercise [against the AFL],'' the spokesman said. ''That was not in our interests or his interests.''
Meanwhile, Sheedy, who will oversee his final season in 2013, had little concern about the Giants officially ruling themselves out of the hunt for former Adelaide key forward Kurt Tippett, who will now almost certainly join Sydney in next week's pre-season draft.
''I think we'll pick a player just as good,'' he said. ''At $900,000 a year, we're not picking him … you'd want to have Tony Lockett [for that amount]. I've got a responsibility for the future direction of this club.''
Sheedy said he was more than happy with the likes of Jonathon Patton and Jeremy Cameron as key forward prospects. ''We need a player similar to Tippett, but more of a ruckman,'' he said.
Sheedy said he hoped the Giants' local rival, Sydney, ended up with Tippett, despite his potential to do damage when the sides clash in round 16 next year; Tippett would miss the first derby in round one because of his 11-game suspension. ''He's probably not going to brain us,'' Sheedy said.
With RICHARD HINDS