Folau earmarked to lead from the back
Quick learner … Israel Folau at training. Photo: James Alcock
ISRAEL FOLAU has revealed he has spent most of his NSW pre-season training at fullback as the Waratahs weigh up throwing their superstar recruit straight into the key position.
Folau says he doesn't yet have a preference on where he lines up in Super Rugby, but believes playing in the No.15 shirt during Waratahs trial matches is the best way for him to get a handle on rugby.
The cross-code convert seems certain to at least get a run at fullback during the Waratahs' opening trial against Melbourne in Hobart on Saturday night.
Coach Michael Cheika hasn't decided on the make-up of his back three for the season proper, but wants all the candidates to be as adept at fullback as on the wing.
Cheika is desperate for attacking weapon Folau to see as much space and quality ball as possible, and combined with his excellent skills under the high ball and kicking ability, fullback might prove to be his best position.
Folau isn't making any bold statements but agrees with Cheika that time at the back will give him a speedy education on the intricacies of rugby.
''I feel fine with that [fullback],'' said Folau, who never played fullback in the NRL.
''I've been training most of the time at fullback so it doesn't feel any different and I'm looking forward to the challenge on Saturday.
''We'll see how we go in trial games but at this stage I actually have no preferences.
''Fullback is probably the best way to learn and like Cheik says, you can see everything unfolding in attack. There will be a lot of space so that will be good.''
Ruck work shapes as one of the biggest adjustments for AFL defector Folau, however Cheika said his star signing seemed ''comfortable'' with that area of the game.
Cheika named a 28-man squad devoid of most of his Wallabies for the first hit-out against the Rebels - with Test stars likely to return in time for the third and final trial against the Crusaders on February 14 at Allianz Stadium.
The new coach wants to see combinations develop and for Folau to feel relaxed and free.
''My biggest thing for him is to let him have the space and enjoy himself and not get too beat up about it all,'' Cheika said.
''He should have a good time. There's no competition points on the line at this stage so I want guys to get a good hit-out and not get too carried away by it all.''
Meanwhile, Cheika has called on the ARU to throw its weight behind the Waratahs' bid to hold on to lock Sitaleki Timani.
The Wallabies powerhouse has reportedly agreed to join French club Montpellier at the end of the year, however, Cheika said it might not be too late to change his mind.
''I know we've put everything we can into our offer … we're mindful of the salary cap … and the way the contract system is at the moment it's going to be up to the ARU to do the best they can,'' he said.
''No one has shown me a piece of paper where he's signed on the dotted line [for Montpellier].
''It's very important for us to maintain locks of Sita's quality in Australia. I'm not saying that to play politics, it's the truth. I'd love to keep him.''
Waratahs trial squad: Michael Alaalatoa, Richard Aho, Kotoni Ale, Ollie Atkins, Peter Betham, Wayne Borzak, Tom Carter, Cam Crawford, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley (vice-captain), Grayson Hart, Michael Hodge, Luke Holmes, Rob Horne, AJ Gilbert, Tom Kingston, Matt Lucas, Brendan McKibbin (captain), Tolu Latu, Dane Maraki, Elijah Niko, Greg Peterson, Jeremy Tilse (vice-captain), Lopeti Timani, Peter Samu, Will Skelton, John Ulugia, Ben Volavola.