Code-breaker ... Israel Folau is on the verge of signing with the Super rugby club the NSW Waratahs. Photo: Getty Images
ISRAEL FOLAU is set to sign a one-year deal with the Waratahs worth a third of the $1.5 million-a-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 negotiated only 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 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 the Eels did not have room for him next season unless Willie Tonga agreed to play elsewhere.
Parramatta were Folau's first choice but they weren't the only NRL club his management spoke with after the Giants and the AFL agreed to release him from the remaining two years of his contract.
Folau knew 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 in which he had represented Queensland and Australia. However, delays in finalising an increased salary cap for 2013 and Schubert's refusal to register any deal worth less than $400,000 led to a frustrated Folau opening talks with the Waratahs.
He did not want to move outside Sydney and, despite speculation in the French media linking him with 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 and the one-year term will enable him to decide if he wants to stay in the code or return to the NRL in 2014.
By then, NRL clubs will have had the chance to free up room in the salary cap to sign him, and the 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.
News that Schubert had agreed to register a deal for Folau last Wednesday if he accepted Parramatta's renewed offer has also raised questions as the club says it hasn't released any players and Fairfax Media has been told reports of a $3 million, four-year contract are not correct. Rival clubs had overwhelmingly opposed a proposal from Parramatta to accommodate Folau by overspending on the 2013 salary cap and spending less in 2014.
Meanwhile, former Wallabies coach John Connolly believes Folau faces another uphill battle to adapt to a foreign code if he makes the switch to rugby.
''Folau is a good physical player but would he be able to adapt to rugby and the challenge of coping with that?'' Connolly told AAP on Sunday. ''The transition is not always that easy. He would have to be ready for it mentally. That could be his biggest challenge. Mentally he would have to be up for the change and starting from scratch in many respects.''