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Folau can only let his talent do the talking

<em>Illustration: Edd Aragon</em>

Illustration: Edd Aragon

Should Israel Folau play for the Wallabies against the British and Irish Lions?

The experts will decide. Or, at least in this case, the Wallabies coaching staff.

But of a player branded, variously, a ''serial code-hopper'', ''AFL failure'', ''NRL traitor'' and - by one unlicensed soothsayer - a ''Super Rugby super flop'', the fans will ask a different question: Do we want Folau to play for the Wallabies?

Would his selection in an iconic Australian team reward the disposable loyalties of contemporary sport? Would it be - as Brumbies coach Jake White ventured - ''a bit of an indictment on the jumper''? Or would it simply underline the new reality, whereby the best talent goes to the highest bidder - or, in this case, the code that didn't spend too long working the abacus trying to ascertain the salary cap ramifications of Folau's recruitment?

Such questions presume there still are among the leather arm-patch brigade those who maintain that a player should be ''worthy'' to wear the Wallabies jersey. If so, perhaps the best people to judge are those Folau has forsaken.

Usually, the code-hoppers and multi-club soldiers of fortune leave behind a trail of bitterness and ill will. Sonny Bill Williams, most famously, left an entire league outraged by his audacious, mid-contract flight. Should SBW leave Sydney again to return to the All Blacks after fulfilling his one-year agreement, you suspect only a Roosters premiership would spare him more scorn.

Yet, in Folau's case, you doubt any of the four clubs he has represented in three codes would not write him a favourable reference. Even those at the NRL club he almost joined, Parramatta, did not slander Folau when he signed for the Waratahs. They believed the NRL, not the player, had let them down.

Storm? The salary cap problems were obvious - far more so later - and they knew he was likely to go north.

Brisbane Broncos? Didn't want to lose him. But, spiced with the customary dose of self-interest, Folau's selection for Queensland when he had already signed with the AFL was a form of ''no hard feelings''.

Greater Western Sydney? You won't hear a bad word against Folau despite his expensive - even embarrassing - failure to make the grade. One that, at the time, seemed to have exposed a weakness in character, as much as technique.

Fellow convert Karmichael Hunt knuckled down on the Gold Coast and made an unexpected success of his new career. Folau was, from day one, a square peg in the AFL's round holes. The game seemed to move about him and, in pursuit of the ball, he looked like a child chasing soap bubbles on a windy day.

The disparity in performance seemed a consequence of Hunt's relative maturity, application and even his work ethic compared with the younger, perhaps less dedicated Folau. Now, as Folau makes good fist of his time with the Waratahs, it seems more a reflection of the physical limitations (particularly a lack of aerobic capacity) and the sheer difficulty of playing key forward, perhaps the most difficult position in the southern code.

Another, less frequently mentioned factor has also afforded Folau some sympathy as he tried to crack three codes. It was a factor raised, respectfully, in Good Weekend's recent story of the sad death of Wests Tigers' young Mosese Fotuaika. It is the responsibility young Polynesian players, particularly, feel to provide for their extended families.

Understandably, Folau and his agents have always maintained it is the challenge of the game he has joined, rather than the money, that has been the crucial element in his decision to change code or club. Perhaps so. However, in the backdrop, family responsibility has seemed to play a part.

Another reason Folau has not suffered the vilification of other supposed turncoats is his almost dreamy innocence. There is something almost childish and naive in the big man's public persona. A charming lack of guile. Almost as if a talent beyond his control has taken him from one field to another, and he has no say in it.

Then there is the pure way Folau plays his game - and, in recent weeks, someone else's. That rare combination of power and grace. The soaring leaps, brilliant dash and muscularity of an athlete whose natural ingredients make Bircher muesli look like Coco Pops. First in Super Rugby cameos then, more recently, against the Bulls, the Kings and the Stormers, in more sustained bursts.

Should Folau play for the Wallabies? Opinions seem sharply divided. The dissenters suggest he is too new, too callow, too fragile to face the Lions. The supporters say he is simply too talented to ignore.

Do we want Folau to play? Through these inexpert eyes, much more than the Lions would.

Email - @rdhinds

Twitter - rhinds@smh.com.au

15 comments so far

  • Well written, enjoyed it. I have heard both sides of the argument on selection of Folau. Both are compelling. I suspect the argument can only be settled on the field. Will be a shame if he isn't picked and we don't get to find out who is right

    Commenter
    Jagelperson
    Date and time
    May 17, 2013, 10:13PM
    • I don't care if he is seen as a code hopper, if he is good enough he should get job. However I always believed a fullback had to be able to kick a ball and preferably with both feet. He would make a dangerous outside centre with Ashley-Cooper at 2nd 5/8. O'Connor and Cooper can fight over 1st 5/8 and Beale at fullback.

      Commenter
      barjon
      Date and time
      May 18, 2013, 4:05AM
      • i think its surprised a lot of people that he hasn't kicked more, especially with his stint in the AFL. however he has kicked in a instances, most notably last week against the stormers. Seems like an effortless drop punt but it travels and is very accurate.

        Commenter
        jstace88
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        May 18, 2013, 2:35PM
    • And yet consider his 'worthiness' in comparison with Beale's. No dramas, humble, disciplined. It's a team game and those are team qualities.

      Commenter
      Matt
      Location
      Central Coast
      Date and time
      May 18, 2013, 7:52AM
      • The Rugby Godfathers should gather him up with both arms and nurture him.
        He will be the best "Rugby returnee" ever.and a star for ten years.
        Yes, returnee, he was lost as a youth to NRL by near sighted administrators.
        When SBW returns to rugby you will have two of the best runners and off loaders of the ball in the game playing on opposite sides.
        He has hte runs on the board, select him.

        Commenter
        ozabroad
        Date and time
        May 18, 2013, 8:06AM
        • Of course Folau can play for the Wallabies, subject to him signing an ARU contract.

          Commenter
          Simon_Sez
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          May 18, 2013, 8:12AM
          • Folau came here to Fiji as front man for the AFL's drive to recruit raw talent from the Pacific Islands. And I have to agree with your judgement that he's personally a very nice man , with "dreamy innocence and a lack of guile". Certainly not a hard-nosed money-chaser by nature. And I agree with Eddie Jones that he won't find either the crowd or the opposition more intimidating than those in RL State of Origin, i.e. the "step-up" to test match would not be too much for him. Technical judgement on his positional play in defence I leave to Robbie Deans, but his skills in attack are obvious to all.

            Commenter
            Tukai
            Location
            Fiji
            Date and time
            May 18, 2013, 8:22AM
            • My only comment is that he has no commitment to rugby union/wobblies. So the question appears to be that .....no matter what.......its a "win at all costs" attitude that prevails. It is the same argument made to allow overseas players to continue to be made available for selection
              This has become the oz trade mark.........everything and anything goes as long as we win. Do you think drugs and gambling are just minor issues? No they are the bed fellows of this attitude. The officials behind all codes have historically turned blind eyes to these evils all to the greater quest of that win/trophy etc
              ARL will not assist ASADA, cricket has had players assist in weather forecasting, athlete taking too many coffees etc etc
              This issue is bigger than Falau (a true athlete, no question). The ARU needs to grow some b....ls and show some leaderhip

              Commenter
              headed off
              Location
              Villavicencio
              Date and time
              May 18, 2013, 8:43AM
              • Richard...it appears your article is akin to giving Izzy a good thrashing with a feather. While you've correctly pointed out the nay-sayers view, you also have been compelled to agree with what the fair minded think...he's too good, too talented and should be selected if not just for his current outstanding form. While I understand the 'loyalty card call' I would remind people that Rugby is NOW a professional sport that demands professionalism at every level of the 'business'. To think otherwise is to be somewhat naive and out of date, time and culture.

                Further, the qouted remarks by Jake White need placement in the context of him pushing his own wheelbarrow and sticking his nose in where it's not welcomed !

                Izzy must be selected for the Wallabies...it's a no-brainer...and everybody will profit from it.

                Commenter
                Machooka
                Location
                inner west sydney
                Date and time
                May 18, 2013, 9:10AM
                • Merit based selection
                  Merit selection ensures that selection is based only on a person's ability to perform the work. Merit selection aims to choose the best person for the job, resulting in a quality workforce.

                  There you have it.

                  Commenter
                  Grateful
                  Location
                  Sydney
                  Date and time
                  May 18, 2013, 10:29AM

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