Israel Folau. Photo: Wolter Peeters
ISRAEL Folau's stint in AFL could make him the most marketable player in the NRL, with private sponsors set to stick with the former Greater Western Sydney star when he joins Parramatta next season.
While the AFL recruited Folau to generate publicity for the fledgling Giants in western Sydney, the move has turned him into a household name around Australia. Folau already had a profile in Melbourne after beginning his career at the Storm but the switch of codes has ensured he is an easily recognisable figure in Victoria as well as South Australia and Western Australia.
Since joining GWS at the end of the 2010 NRL season, the former Test and Queensland origin star has secured sponsorship deals worth up to $2 million.
With little room in the salary cap for next year, Parramatta officials are believed to be trying to arrange some additional third-party sponsorship deals for Folau.
Eels coach Ricky Stuart said chief executive Ken Edwards and recruitment manager Peter Nolan had been in constant - ''daily and hourly'' - contact with the NRL about Folau, and it is understood NRL officials had been given a heads-up on Wednesday that he was going to quit the Giants.
''We have done everything in consultation with the NRL,'' Stuart said. ''He is our key target in regards to getting him to play for Parramatta.
''We will move heaven and earth to get him there and the good thing we have in our favour is that he wants to play for Parramatta.
''We have taken this very unique position to the NRL for them to understand it and for us to understand it …
''It is just such a great thing for rugby league, especially in western Sydney, that Israel has decided to come back to rugby league.''
Stuart spoke to Folau on Thursday afternoon after the announcement he had been granted a release from the final two years of his GWS contract, believed to be worth up to $1.5 million per season, and he said the 23-year-old wanted to return to the NRL.
''I had a good chat with him and you know by a person's demeanour, body language and by making that tough, courageous decision,'' Stuart said.
''We are fortunate he is a western Sydney boy, he is a local product, he has grown up in the area and I see him as a great fit for Parramatta.
''He hasn't reached the pinnacle of his career yet in rugby league. I think the endurance levels of what he had to achieve in AFL will only improve his game immediately in regard to his fitness and energy levels.''