McKenzie plots to bring Folau down to earth
"They've made an investment there and they will want to use him" ... Ewen McKenzie. Photo: Getty Images
THE Queensland Reds have two trials and an away trip to Canberra before their Super Rugby path leads to the Waratahs but Ewen McKenzie has already started formulating plans to help counter NSW signing Israel Folau.
Folau's aborted attempt at becoming an AFL player has led to him moving to code No.3. He will try to find his legs in rugby union following stints with the NRL's Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos and AFL's GWS Giants.
Tall, strong, fast and athletic, Folau has all of the ingredients to be a handful on the rugby field and in rugby league was a proven finisher, scoring a remarkable 73 tries in four seasons. During his two years at Red Hill, he scored a ridiculous 37 tries in 38 games.
Part of his talent was an ability in the air that took the attacking cross-kick to a new level in league. At his best, Folau seemed unstoppable on the wing when a ball was floated in his direction.
To what extent the Waratahs utilise that tactic remains to be seen but McKenzie, never a man inclined to skimp on research, has already started to consider the options to help keep Folau grounded.
He said he had been keeping tabs on the Waratahs during the pre-season or, more to the point, they had been doing a fine job of communicating the goings-on in Sydney.
He expected NSW to find a way to employ Folau's talents.
''I've been reading about the Tahs every day,'' McKenzie said. ''They've been keeping us well informed. We know well and truly what they are up to. They'll find a way to use him. It will be interesting to see if he appears in their first official game. He's a good player. I'm sure he'll be there or thereabouts.''
Folau's dominance in the air came to be a feature of his rugby league play but the rules of the game helped provide a glut of opportunities, the likes of which he might not enjoy in rugby union.
League's six-tackle rule meant if the Broncos or Storm were in range to launch a cross-kick on the fifth tackle, sending it in Folau's direction was a no-brainer play that often turned into four points. Union's focus on retaining the ball and building pressure means it is a riskier move to kick the ball away early. If it fails, the defending side can get out of its 20-metre zone without conceding points.
McKenzie will be thinking all of that through and watching Folau and the Tahs during trial games, presuming he plays, to see how the hulking outside-back is employed.
''We'll have a look at the trial games and see where he goes. You expect they've made an investment there and they will want to use him.''
The Reds will enter the trials with all of their players available bar Wallabies halfback Will Genia, who continues his rehabilitation from a knee reconstruction.