To stay: Israel Folau wants to be in Sydney. Photo: Getty Images
ISRAEL Folau is set to sign a one-year deal with the Waratahs worth a third of the $1.5 million per season AFL contract he recently turned his back on and less than Parramatta's initial offer for him to return to the NRL.
The fact Folau and the Waratahs have only negotiated a short-term contract with no Australian Rugby Union top-up suggests the move was not for money but because he had become fed up with delays in finalising an NRL deal.
NRL interim chief executive Shane Mattiske confirmed in a press release that he had spoken with Folau's management about the former Test and origin star returning to the code before he was officially released by Greater Western Sydney on November 1 and Fairfax Media understands the meeting was before the NRL grand final a month earlier.
However, NRL salary cap auditor Ian Schubert refused to register a contract for Folau for less than $400,000 and Parramatta did not have room for him next season unless Willie Tonga agreed to play elsewhere.
Parramatta was Folau's first choice but it wasn't the only NRL club that his management spoke with after the Giants and the AFL agreed to release him from the remaining two years of his contract.
Folau knew that he would earn significantly less money in the NRL as well as having to endure criticism as a failure in AFL but he wanted to return to the game he grew up playing and had represented Queensland and Australia.
But delays in finalising an increased salary cap for 2013 and Schubert's refusal to register any deal worth less than $400,000 for him led to a frustrated Folau opening talks with the Waratahs.
He did not want to move outside of Sydney and despite speculation in the French media linking him to Clermont, Folau never considered playing in France or Japan.
It is understood that his deal with the Waratahs does not include a top-up from the ARU.
The one-year term will enable him to decide if he wants to stay in the code or return to rugby league in 2014.
By then, NRL clubs will have had the chance to free up room in the salary cap to sign him and ceiling on player wages is also expected to have been significantly raised so Folau won't have to endure the same problems he encountered after deciding he wanted to return.
If he does, it almost certainly won't be with Parramatta after both parties were left with a bitter taste in their mouths after the protracted negotiations.
However, the 23-year-old may prove such a success for the Waratahs that the ARU will offer him a big contract and the lure of the 2015 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games to stay in the code.