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Israel Folau's quest for rugby immortality could keep NRL return on ice

Scary: Israel Folau scored three tries for the Waratahs against the Force last weekend.

Scary: Israel Folau scored three tries for the Waratahs against the Force last weekend. Photo: Getty Images

The desire to hear his name uttered in the same breath as rugby legends Jonah Lomu, David Campese and Brian O'Driscoll could keep Israel Folau in rugby beyond the next World Cup.

The Waratahs fullback, who is contracted to rugby until the end of next year, has revealed he considers rugby his long-term home and wants to leave it only when he is considered a legend of the code by its followers.

"That's what I'm looking to achieve," Folau said. "When I re-signed last year I said I wanted to be in the game long term. After next year I'd like to be in the game again for a further - however long that will take me to."

Folau was responding to comments made almost a year ago by then Wallabies coach Robbie Deans.

Deans was putting together his squad for the British and Irish Lions series, and Folau, having played just a handful of Super Rugby matches, had committed to Australian rugby for just one year.

Deans told reporters the 24-year-old was in the mix for Test selection. "Israel does some things that no one else can do," he said in May. "How many games has he had now - 10 or so? It's remarkable what he can do for a bloke who's playing his 10th game of rugby.

"Whatever happens, let's hope he sticks around because he could be an absolute legend of the game if he does."

Folau went on to form a crucial part of the Wallabies' run-on side under both Deans and his successor Ewen McKenzie. He re-signed with the Waratahs and Wallabies in August for a further two years.

"You get a lot of confidence out of hearing comments from people like [Deans]," Folau said at Waratahs headquarters on Thursday.

"I'm just really enjoying it, and I want to challenge myself every time I go out there to play Super Rugby or international[s]."

The cross-code battle for the dual international will be fierce next year as the Australian Rugby Union seeks to secure his talents for their 2016 Olympic campaign and the NRL - Folau's first home - looks to lure him back to league.

One thing is for sure: the NRL will not be caught napping again after watching rugby pounce on one of their most marketable talents.

Whether rugby, a code that is under well-documented and considerable financial pressures, will have the firepower to compete with a bullish NRL is another matter.

"I'm sure there will be a lot of clubs who will be in talks with my management when the time comes. It depends how I'm feeling during the time," Folau told Fairfax Media earlier this month.

"I'm in a good place where I'm enjoying the game. If I'm involved in the World Cup that's huge, so I guess it comes to the time to re-assess and see how I'm feeling, but rugby league is definitely on as an option."

For now, Folau is focused on adding ball-playing to his arsenal at the Waratahs.

The fullback has a licence to roam alongside fellow ball-players Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley, and believes it is the key to his evolution in rugby.

"As a fullback I can see now that they're starting to step up and be ball-players as well, and I want to take that on as well," he said.

His growth in rugby is beyond doubt. Where the Folau of 2013 could occasionally go quiet in Test matches, the Folau of early 2014 has been popping up everywhere in attack.

NSW coach Michael Cheika said it was "no coincidence" his fullback was in a position to finish off three tries against the Force last weekend.

"A year into the game you know what to expect and you're thinking a couple of phases ahead where you feel like you're going to be or where you see yourself playing next," Folau said.

The Waratahs play the Queensland Reds at ANZ Stadium on Saturday in the most anticipated of Australia's Super Rugby derby matches.

Waratahs captain Dave Dennis was ruled out late with a knee injury, and will be replaced at No.6 by Stephen Hoiles, with Pat McCutcheon moving to the bench.

The Reds were also hit by injury, ruling out dynamic centre Mike Harris with an ankle injury. Anthony Fainga'a will start in his place, with Ben Lucas taking his place on the bench.

29 comments so far

  • Izzy Folau, has already played in a RLWC World Cup in 2008. He may be tempted to go back to rugby league in 2017 to play in another RLWC. He's won state of origin titles already.
    The Olympic's is on in Rio in 2016, that will tempt Folau. Maybe potential Commonwealth games gold if nines becomes a fully fledged Com games sport at the Gold Coast Com games in 2018. French rugby,Japan rugby he would get massive offers. If he doesn't go back say in 2017, I can't see him going back to rugby league. He may wanna play in RWC Japan in 2019

    of Cronulla
    Date and time
    February 28, 2014, 1:47AM
    • You overestimate the interest league fans have in any one player. Once they're gone, no one cares (well, maybe the marketing department, but they are as guilty as the media in mistaking the level of interest), there is always a new guy ready to take their place in league.

      Glad he's making a go of it in union and hopefully he helps continue to spark some sort of resurgence for the Wallabies, but the fact the media needs to keep invoking league in articles like this speak volumes. I'm assuming putting either league or NRL in the headline helps with the amount of clicks an article on rugby gets.

      Bear Hunter
      Date and time
      February 28, 2014, 8:23AM
      • @ Bear Hunter

        What speaks volumes is that Izzy is happily and successfully playing Rugby. And it's the continual speculation (from League) that he'll return to League that is at the heart of GR's article if one is to read between the lines. Further, in response to comments made by Deans, and more recently by former greats of Rugby, is that Izzy now understands what he needs to do to etch his name amongst those Rugby greats.Therefore it would appear that Izzy is unlikely to return to League anytime soon as he more than wants this opportunity. Also I'm sure his friend and mentor Jonah Lomu has made that abundantly clear to him. Izzy wants his name to be in conversation amongst the best Rugby players on the planet.... not just League players on the eastern seaboard of Australia and Wigan.

        "Once they're gone, no one cares".... yeah right !

        inner west sydney
        Date and time
        February 28, 2014, 9:17AM
      • "Read between the lines", what an absolute cop out, the standard line of someone with no evidence or facts. Please link to some proof it is League speculating on this 'flip-flopping' between codes, I mean this is a Union article written by a Union writer if I'm not mistaken and it the writer of this article publishing said speculation of another code switch.

        And then to finish, you attempt some sort of pathetic insult at a sport that is somehow supposed to offend? Typical overly defensive response from a Union fan, so very sad.

        Bear Hunter
        Date and time
        February 28, 2014, 9:44AM
      • Please, the only time union gets publicity in this country is when they mention rugby league and rugby league players. Nobody cares otherwise. I'd say folau would want to test himself again in the worlds toughest rugby competition, the nrl. Union seems a bit too easy for him.

        Date and time
        February 28, 2014, 10:01AM
      • @ Bear Hunter

        Ummmm... who's being " typical overly defensive (in) response " ??

        inner west sydney
        Date and time
        February 28, 2014, 1:14PM
      • @hutch "toughest rugby competition" - that must be why it's taking the world by storm yeah? The fact that having an IQ above 8 works against you in league is indicative of how tough it is.

        Date and time
        February 28, 2014, 1:50PM
    • Great story re Izzy. However the real interest should be in the statement that Australian rugby has financial pressures. & the question is why when rugby elsewhere in the world is booming. The reason I believe is the appalling mismanagement by John O'Neill over many years, including for example his belief that rugby could compete as a mainstream winter sport with AFL and NRL. This lead to the grassroots (weekend players/clubs and NSW/QLD supporters) being left out in the cold and the results are being felt now. Not even 16,000 at SFS last weekend, used to regularly get 35,000. Also Bledisloe Cup matches in Melbourne, Perth and HK to "promote" the game when there was none in Sydney - give me strength.

      Date and time
      February 28, 2014, 8:55AM
      • Agree completely. He left the place in a mess (and with no ARC).

        A legacy he should be proud of....

        a nother
        Date and time
        February 28, 2014, 10:36AM
      • John O'Neill has been a competent sports administrator. Union's problem is that it is in fourth place in Australia's football hierarchy, whereas in other major Union playing countries it is first or second. The rise of soccer, the compatibility of League and TV screens, and the amazing spectator and playing appeal of AFL have left Union behind. Given the lift to the game Folau has provided, and looking ahead to the world cup, maybe the answer is to recruit Inglis, Slater, Thurston, Hayne, Cameron Smith, Carney et al which would also bolster the Super Rugby teams in both performance and watchability. Surely the private school supporters network can throw enough into Union's funds to compete on a monetary level. Carlton called on Richard Pratt, Essendon on Paul Little, their equivalents in Union need to put their hands up.

        Date and time
        February 28, 2014, 11:20AM

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