When the Australian Rugby League Commission announced it had signed a billion dollar broadcasting deal I reckon the happiest person in Australia was Israel Folau.
When Faolau was offered well over a million dollars to play AFL he simply had to take the money. It was around three time more than he could have hoped to have received in Rugby League at the time and for that type of pay increase, you can afford to be miserable.
The AFL’s plan for Folau was pretty simple. They wanted a high profile Rugby League player to draw attention to their new expansion club in Sydneys west. It worked in the very early days, but by the time Folau actually knocked an AFL ball on in anger, it was all old news.
Since then Folau has struggled in a team that has struggled. Playing in front of crowds in Sydney that would horrify even the Sydney Roosters, reports are that he looks disinterested with the sport.
With a rise in the NRL salary cap and a few teams desperate for a center, Folau now has the opportunity to return to Rugby League. Sure, he will have to take a pay cut, but you’d have to think that any clubs that offered him a decent amount of money would surely get him.
There is already talk the Parramatta Eels are ready to make him an offer as they are in desperate need of a center. I also keep heaping whispers the Penrith Panthers would be interested in signing him up if they can clear the cap space.
From a footballing point of view you’d have a few concerns about Folau’s return.
First of all, he would need to add a lot of the muscle mass he has lost playing AFL. That would take him quite some time. If you remember when Mark Gasnier returned from playing French Rugby Union, he looked a lot smaller than when he left. It took him a long time to physically get up to the level needed just to compete in the NRL again.
Folau’s defense would be another area of concern. Most of his defensive instincts will quickly come back to him, but it would still take time for him to get back to his best, and any club that signs him will need to be ready to go through those growing pains.
Players that have left the NRL and then come back rarely look as good as they once were, especially when they have gone to play another sport. The NRL is at such a cutting edge that even if you are 10% off the pace, you are a huge liability to your club.
Folau is still young enough that he should be able to bounce back and find form that is somewhere near his best. He is an amazing athlete, he’s just playing the wrong sport.
To take less money to play a sport he loves, to not have ignorant AFL types attacking him week in wee out, to not feel like a marketing stunt, to not have ignorant fools talking about his inability to do certain things just because of his race…..to leave all that behind would be a huge relief, and I’d suggest it would be more than worth the money he leaves on the table if he returns to Rugby League.
Folau isn’t worth a million dollars in Rugby League. There are too many great players who can change a club’s fortunes all on their own to spend that sort of money on a winger/center. He is worth a substantial gamble though, especially to a club like the Parramatta Eels who are short of talent.
So Israel, come back to the best game in the world. Come back to the sport you love.
Come back to Rugby League!