No turning back as Folau sticks with new world
"I'm in my second year here and I'm feeling a lot more comfortable playing AFL" ... Israel Folau. Photo: Getty Images
EVERY so often when they are tossing the football around in the family's yard, Eni jnr and John Folau have a word in their big brother's ear. They know Israel is committed to his new game, and they aren't the only ones who would like to see him back in that other game. So it doesn't hurt to try.
Just as it was for Izzy, rugby league is the game for his brothers. Youngest John, 17, is making a name for himself - like Izzy, as a centre - in the Parramatta under-20s team. Eni jnr, while originally signed by the Eels, is now playing for the Maitland Pickers as a front-rower and one who collected a pair of tries in the club's win against Port Stephens last weekend.
Asked if his family had tried to suggest he should return to the other game, Israel said yesterday: ''No, certainly not my parents … but my brothers have tried to do that.
''My family are really supportive. They have been out to see all the games I have been playing in Sydney, and they have watched games on TV when we are away.
''Just like me they are trying to learn the game, but they are always full of support.''
His brothers are enjoying their rugby league, as he is his AFL.
''I try and help them out whenever I can, and hopefully they do well in their footy,'' he said.
Israel watched John play in the under-20s at ANZ Stadium last week, and already the talk is Parramatta will have the inside running should Izzy decide to head back to league when his AFL contract expires after 2014.
''I'm just trying to help him out with his footy. He's still young and he's still learning, and it's always good to just support your family,'' Israel said. ''There were no cravings for rugby league while I was there.
''Last year I kind of did, because I was fresh out of the game, but now I'm in my second year here and I'm feeling a lot more comfortable playing AFL. I sort of enjoy the position I'm in at the moment and I'm not getting hungry for it when I'm watching rugby league.''
Israel is only five games into his AFL career, following on a year playing the game in the feeder competition. He doesn't hide the fact he still has a long, long way to go, but he wants to get there, and is willing to do whatever it takes.
''I'm just trying to be patient with myself and try and take things as they come, but I'm certainly confident in how everything is going so far,'' he said.
''The patience is pretty difficult. It's something I never needed when I was playing rugby league, because I'd played it my whole life.
''I have been able to get a lot of confidence from what Karmichael [Hunt] is doing with the Gold Coast. Everyone in the whole AFL world is surprised at how he has come a long way, but I'm not.
''He works really hard on what he wants to achieve and it's starting to pay off now.
''Hopefully by next year I will have improved a lot too.''
Folau said the constant scrutiny could be difficult and at times he would just like to be John Smith, and learning out of the spotlight.
He was not offended with people thinking he was no more than a marketing gimmick of the AFL.
He said it was a similar case with Hunt last season, and look at him now: ''He certainly isn't considered a gimmick now.''
''I'd like to see massive improvements in the next 12 months or so,'' he said.
But can Folau really make it? ''Yeah, I can. If I didn't think I could, I wouldn't have signed. It's not going to come overnight.''