Stuart thanks AFL stint for making Izzy an even bigger star
"He hasn't reached the pinnacle of his career yet in rugby league" ... Ricky Stuart talking about 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 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, South Australia and West Australia where AFL dominates.
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.
Some of those were due to his role with GWS but Fairfax understands that Under Armour, G-Shock and Glue Store plan to stay with him after his move to the Eels.
Folau holidayed with Parramatta stars Jarryd Hayne, Tim Mannah and Joseph Paulo in the US but one of the main purposes of his trip was a visit to Under Armour headquarters in Baltimore.
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 AFL.
''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, and we are going to benefit from this if it all comes off in regards to what we want.
''It is just such a great thing for rugby league, especially in western Sydney, that Israel has decided to come back to rugby league.
''I think the game is going forward quickly and it will keep moving in that direction having these type of players … we keep hearing about Sonny Bill Williams, we heard about Israel Folau yesterday and it is just so good for 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 Giants contract, believed to be worth up to $1.5 million per season, and he said the 23-year-old wanted to return to rugby league.
''We are fortunate he is a western Sydney boy, and I see him as a great fit for Parramatta,'' Stuart said.
''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. Knowing him as an athlete and knowing what he has just been through with the physical attributes for AFL, it won't take him long to get back into league.''