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Freaky Folau has key to crack another code


A special talent is ready for his next challenge, writes Rupert Guinness.

Finding his feet… Israel Folau gears up this week for his Waratahs debut, against the Rebels in Hobart on Saturday. Rugby is the 23-year-old's third football code in four seasons.

Finding his feet… Israel Folau gears up this week for his Waratahs debut, against the Rebels in Hobart on Saturday. Rugby is the 23-year-old's third football code in four seasons. Photo: Anthony Johnson

''WHAT can he expect? Guys are going to bash him … and he's got to try and get away from them. It's pretty simple, you know what I mean?''

Luckily, triple code convert Israel Folau is a hard egg. Those words from his Waratahs coach, Michael Cheika, about his prospects in his rugby union debut for NSW against the Melbourne Rebels at North Hobart Stadium on Saturday are unlikely to rattle his nerves as they might others.

As the Waratahs wrapped up preparations for the first of three trial games on Thursday, Folau, 23, looked anything but anxious.

In a league of his own ... Folau celebrates scoring a try for the Maroons.

In a league of his own ... Folau celebrates scoring a try for the Maroons. Photo: Getty Images

Few, if any, footballers in Australia have put their reputations on the line as Folau has. His headlining contractual deals have certainly been lucrative.

And as speculation over where he would play next continued, he drew accusations of being a footballing mercenary over a career that, though still young, has seen him play in the NRL and AFL before this year's crack at Super Rugby and the Test ranks with the Wallabies, should he attain his publicly stated goal.

But undervalued by Folau's detractors is a player's pride and reputation, one he has placed at risk by being brave enough to play different codes. As former dual international Lote Tuqiri told Fairfax Media in December, were Folau the mercenary some say he is, he could have ''kept his head low'' in the AFL and played out the remaining two years of his reported $1.5 million a year deal, rather than pursue his footy career elsewhere - and for less.

Code cracker ...  Israel Folau playing AFL with the Giants.

Code cracker ... Israel Folau playing AFL with the Giants. Photo: Getty Images

Folau's journey is far from over, but it is still mixed and varied. Born in Minto to parents of Tongan descent, he debuted in the NRL at age 17 with the Melbourne Storm (2007-2008) before joining the Brisbane Broncos (2009-2010) in which time he represented Australia and Queensland in the State of Origin. After two years in AFL with Greater Western Sydney, he opted out of the code and then joined the Waratahs last December.

On Saturday Folau, who has signed with the Waratahs on a one-year deal, will start at fullback; but Cheika has indicated he may switch to the wing.

After a full pre-season of training to hone his mind into that of a rugby player, Cheika believes there is little more advice to offer - for now. The time has come for Folau to show what he has learned, and what he will need to do. Until then, Cheika says: ''The issues I can maybe help him with are positional. 'When this happens, try and do this …' 'When this happens try and do that.' Apart from that there is nothing I can do for him really.''

Cheika doubts Folau is anxious about his debut. ''Footy is the good bit. Training is the bad bit,'' Cheika says. ''There is no reason for Israel to be anxious. He's not here to save the universe. He is here to play like every other player, do his best, enjoy himself and see what happens.''

However, don't be fooled into believing that Cheika is forecasting a faultless transition by Folau into rugby union. ''He is going to find, probably, a few little hiccups around the positional side of the game,'' Cheika says. ''But that's absolutely normal. We are not looking for perfection right now.''

Brendan McKibbin, halfback and captain for NSW on Saturday, says Folau is ready, but identifies the breakdown as the biggest concern.

''The breakdown is something new that he will have to deal with. We have been doing a fair bit of work at training and whatnot and he has handled that really well,'' McKibbin says of the ''likeable character'' who is ''humble'' and ''has got along with everyone''. But for anyone who finds Folau running at them full pace with the ball in hand, McKibbin warns: ''I'd be pretty wary. Hopefully he gets a lot of time with the ball and shows us what he can do.''

Bernard Foley, the former Australian Sevens captain from 2010 to 2011, is the Waratah teammate from whom Folau has sought most counsel.

''He is a really good student and eager to learn and understand the game. With his natural ability and background, he understands a lot of things,'' Foley says of Folau before modestly playing down his impact on the former rugby league star's latest code switch.

''I helped him out in positional play and different cues and signals to read whilst playing the game. I tried to teach him the basic rules and understandings of the game, but not to go out of my depth. I haven't tried to re-invent the wheel with him at all.''

Foley says Folau has huge potential as a ball-runner: ''For him it's about trying to get the ball in hand as often as possible. He is such a destructive runner, a really good and powerful ball runner. With his feet, his size and speed, he will be hard to contain.''

He also believes Folau will bring added value with his ability to take the high ball and his kicking game - skills improved while playing AFL.

''He has great hands and his ability to leap and catch the ball is phenomenal,'' Foley says.

''He will have no problem with that, especially coming back from AFL which has really put him in good stead with his kicking. He has a big kick on him and he is very accurate. He will be fine at the back there [as fullback]. He is just so excited to get playing and get his hands on the ball and play some rugby. He is a freak.

''His athletic ability is second to none. He can catch any type of ball. He is so destructive out wide with his running lines. With his feet and size he is really hard to tackle. A lot of things have surprised me. Watching how well he did in those other arenas, he could be pretty special in rugby.''

Twitter:- @rupertguinness

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Related Coverage

Super Rugby 2015

Round 1
Fri, 13 FebTimes shown AEDT
CRU 10 vs REB 20 Report Stats
BRU 47 vs RED 3 Stats
Sat, 14 FebTimes shown AEDT
LIO 8 vs HUR 22 Report Stats
BLU 18 vs CHF 23 Report Stats
Sun, 15 FebTimes shown AEDT
SHA 29 vs CHT 35 Report Stats
BUL 17 vs STO 29 Report Stats
WAR 13 vs FOR 25 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 20 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHF 19 vs BRU 17 Report Stats
REB 28 vs WAR 38 Report Stats
Sat, 21 FebTimes shown AEDT
BUL 13 vs HUR 17 Report Stats
HIG 20 vs CRU 26 Report Stats
RED 18 vs FOR 6 Report Stats
Sun, 22 FebTimes shown AEDT
STO 27 vs BLU 16 Report Stats
SHA 29 vs LIO 12 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 27 FebTimes shown AEDT
HIG 20 vs RED 13 Report Stats
FOR 13 vs HUR 42 Stats
Sat, 28 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHT 25 vs BLU 24 Report Stats
CHF 40 vs CRU 16 Stats
REB 15 vs BRU 20 Report Stats
Sun, 01 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 43 vs SHA 35 Report Stats
LIO 19 vs STO 22 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF 17 vs HIG 20 Report Stats
BRU 27 vs FOR 15 Report Stats
Sat, 07 MarTimes shown AEDT
BLU 10 vs LIO 13 Report Stats
RED 5 vs WAR 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHT 20 vs BUL 39 Report Stats
STO 29 vs SHA 13 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 13 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 30 vs BLU 23 Report Stats
FOR 17 vs REB 21 Report Stats
Sat, 14 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU 34 vs LIO 6 Report Stats
HIG 26 vs WAR 19 Report Stats
RED vs BRU 29 Stats
Sun, 15 MarTimes shown AEDT
STO 19 vs CHF 28 Report Stats
CHT 10 vs SHA 27 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
HIG 13 vs HUR 20 Report Stats
REB 16 vs LIO 20 Report Stats
Sat, 21 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU 57 vs CHT 14 Report Stats
Sun, 22 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 25 vs FOR 24 Report Stats
SHA 12 vs CHF 11 Report Stats
WAR 28 vs BRU 13 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 36 vs REB 12 Report Stats
RED 17 vs LIO 18 Report Stats
Sat, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF 37 vs CHT 27 Report Stats
HIG 39 vs STO 21 Report Stats
WAR 23 vs BLU 11 Report Stats
Sun, 29 MarTimes shown AEDT
SHA 15 vs FOR 9 Report Stats
BUL 31 vs CRU 19 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
HUR 25 vs STO 20 Report Stats
REB 23 vs RED 15 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
CHF 23 vs BLU 16 Report Stats
BRU 20 vs CHT 3 Report Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEDT
SHA 10 vs CRU 52 Report Stats
LIO 22 vs BUL 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
BLU 16 vs BRU 14 Report Stats
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU 20 vs HIG 25 Report Stats
WAR 18 vs STO 32 Report Stats
FOR 15 vs CHT 24 Report Stats
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
LIO 23 vs SHA 21 Report Stats
BUL 43 vs RED 22 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU 9 vs CHF 26 Report Stats
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
HUR 24 vs WAR 29 Report Stats
HIG 30 vs BLU 24 Report Stats
BRU 8 vs REB 13 Report Stats
FOR 6 vs STO 13 Report Stats
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
SHA 10 vs BUL 17 Report Stats
CHT 17 vs RED 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
CHF 35 vs FOR 27 Report Stats
BRU 31 vs HIG 18 Report Stats
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU 29 vs BLU 15 Report Stats
WAR 18 vs REB 16 Report Stats
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
LIO 34 vs CHT 29 Report Stats
STO 15 vs BUL 13 Report Stats
RED 19 vs HUR 35 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
HIG 48 vs SHA 15 Report Stats
BRU 10 vs WAR 13 Report Stats
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU 41 vs FOR 24 Report Stats
HUR 29 vs CRU 23 Report Stats
REB 16 vs CHF 15 Report Stats
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT 25 vs STO 17 Report Stats
BUL 35 vs LIO 33 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU 58 vs RED 17 Report Stats
REB 42 vs BLU 22 Report Stats
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR 32 vs SHA 24 Report Stats
FOR 18 vs WAR 11 Report Stats
LIO 28 vs HIG 23 Report Stats
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
STO 25 vs BRU 24 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU 23 vs BUL 18 Report Stats
RED 46 vs REB 29 Report Stats
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR 22 vs CHF 18 Report Stats
WAR 33 vs SHA 18 Report Stats
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
LIO 20 vs BRU 30 Report Stats
CHT 24 vs HIG 45 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
CHF 34 vs BUL 20 Stats
RED 14 vs SHA 21 Stats
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU vs HUR 17:35EP
WAR vs CRU 19:40ANZ
FOR vs HIG 21:45nib Stadium
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT vs LIO 01:05FSS
STO vs REB 03:10DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU vs HUR 17:35Trafalgar Park
BRU vs BUL 19:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
SHA vs REB 03:10Growthpoint Kings Park
HIG vs CHF 17:35Rugby Park
FOR vs RED 19:40nib Stadium
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
STO vs CHT 01:05DHL Newlands
LIO vs WAR 03:10Emirates Airlines Park
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
HUR vs HIG 17:35McLean Park
FOR vs BRU 21:00nib Stadium
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
REB vs BUL 15:30AAMI
BLU vs CRU 17:35EP
RED vs CHF 19:40SS
CHT vs WAR 23:00FSS
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
STO vs LIO 01:05DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
BLU vs HIG 17:35EP
REB vs FOR 19:40AAMI
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
BRU vs CRU 15:30GIO Stadium
CHF vs HUR 17:35Yarrow Stadium
WAR vs RED 19:40AS
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
BUL vs CHT 01:05Loftus Versfeld
SHA vs STO 03:10Growthpoint Kings Park
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 09:00
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 09:00
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 09:00
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 09:00
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 09:00
View All Fixtures
Super Rugby 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Hurricanes 12 11 1 0 119 52
Brumbies 13 7 6 0 102 38
Bulls 13 7 6 0 29 35
Chiefs 13 9 4 0 87 44
Waratahs 12 8 4 0 40 36
Stormers 12 8 4 0 26 34
Highlanders 12 8 4 0 69 39
Lions 13 7 6 0 -50 31
View all
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