Izzy a Wallaby-in-waiting
Centre of attention ... Israel Folau at NSW Waratahs training this week. Photo: Anthony Johnson
DUAL international Timana Tahu will be ''shocked'' if Israel Folau doesn't become a Wallaby by the end of the year and claims those labelling him a mercenary are jealous of his talent.
Folau fronted for his first training session for the Waratahs during the week after knocking back the chance to join his younger brother John at the Parramatta Eels. The former GWS Giant has maintained his decision wasn't prompted by money, while Fairfax Media revealed the ARU topped up his one-year Waratahs contract with a secret $400,000 payment.
There are obvious parallels with Tahu, who was also courted by both the Eels and the Tahs and enjoyed successful stints with both organisations. The Newcastle Knight believes it won't take long for Folau to follow in his footsteps and represent Australia in both codes.
''Easy. Put it this way - if he doesn't make the Wallabies by the end of the year, I'll be shocked,'' Tahu said. ''He's a confident man and a natural athlete. Good athletes can play any sport and he's one of them. Rugby league, AFL and now playing rugby union for the Tahs, he'll go really good over there. It took me a while to get used to it but he can jump, step - with a bit of coaching of the structural plays, he'll pick it up really quick. He's a big bloke so 12 or 13 is probably his best position. He looks leaner, I saw him on TV the other day and he looks unreal. Especially with all the running he's been doing in the AFL, his fitness won't be an issue.''
Tahu, who also copped criticism for his decision to switch codes in 2008, labelled those giving Folau stick as ''whingers''. ''People who [criticise] are the ones who would like to be in his shoes right now,'' he said. ''All of those people are whingers, a lot of people envy sports people like him. Sport is his job and being a professional athlete is his job. It doesn't matter what code you're in, he's a marketable person.
''The Waratahs will be happy he will help them marketing-wise and he's just a talented player. If he's looking for money, why not? It's hard for a sportsperson to find those sort of figures after rugby or rugby league, so for him to make as much money before he retires from football so that he can look after his family and himself, I'm all for it.'' Folau follows big names including Lote Tuqiri, Wendell Sailor, Mat Rogers, Sonny Bill Williams, Craig Gower and Tahu to make the transition to the 15-man game. Tahu believes one advantage for Folau is that, at 23, he has made the switch much earlier than his predecessors.
''He's at a good age and hasn't reached his potential yet,'' he said.
''When I crossed over I was at the peak of my career, so I was lucky to play for the Tahs and the Wallabies.
''It gives him another goal to achieve. He's played well in rugby league so he knows if he comes back to the code he can play the game, but stepping over to rugby union is a new challenge for him.''