He was a great Rugby League player, one of the best in the world. He was offered an impossible amount of money to switch to AFL. Now, after just 13 games, Israel Folau has walked into the Australian Rugby Union test team, his form making it impossible for the ARU to offer his position to anyone else.
It is hilarious to see how Rugby Union types have talked about Israel Folau since he joined the sport. From day one Folau has looked head and shoulders above anyone else on the field when ever he has played. Folau has been playing on a completely different level, his Rugby League roots shining through despite the toll a couple of years of AFL training took on him.
As Folau destroyed opposition teams, the Rugby Union commentators and journalists kept asking the question “Will he make it?”. As Folau scored tries that make up pretty much all of the highlights in “Super” Rugby this season they kept questioning if he was good enough to be selected for the ARU test team.
Could Folau handle the pressure of the big games? Could he match it against the worlds best? These were questions they were asking of Folau as he cared up Rugby Union teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Folau went from AFL and become the best Rugby Union playing in Australia within the space of a few weeks.
Of course, Rugby Union types do everything they can to avoid mentioning his Rugby League roots. Folau joins a long list of former Rugby League clubs who has walked into a Rugby Union test just weeks after making his Rugby Union debut.
Here is a list of Rugby League players who made the switch to Rugby Union and walked into test teams:
Iestyn Harris – 11 Days – Welsh test Side
Brian Carney – 1 Month and 16 Days – Irish Test Side
Lesley Vainikolo – 3 Months and 22 Days – English Test Side
Matt Rogers – 3 Months and 28 Days – Australian Test Side
Wendel Sailor – 3 Months And 29 Days – Australian Test Side
Timana Tahu – 5 Months and 9 Days – Australian Test Side
There was once a time where Rugby Union banned players from ever playing their game if they set foot on a Rugby League field. As Rugby League was a professional game and Rugby Union didn’t like paying tax, it was the great divide between the supposed upper class game and the rabble that was Rugby League.
When Rugby Union went professional in 1995 after the spectre of Super League threatened to crush the sport, the divide was changed. Rugby League players weren’t as skilled, they couldn’t come to terms with the complex nature of Rugby Union. There is no way they would have the kicking game to compete in Rugby Union and don’t even start about the ability of a Rugby League players to compete in the forwards in Rugby Union….it just wouldn’t happen.
Of course, all of these myths have been shattered many times over by now. Rugby League players that switched to Rugby Union were just head and shoulders above everyone else.
That someone like Brad Thorn could end his Rugby League career and STILL be playing to this very day, having a second career in Rugby Union in which he was so good he could take time off and pick and choose when he played for the All Blacks says it all.
Israel Folau joins a long, long list of Rugby League players who have switched to Rugby Union and become one of the games best within a matter of weeks.
Folau has yet to re-sign with the ARU. The line is that he is waiting to see if he enjoys the internationals before he re-signs. What is more likely is that he is ready to return to Rugby League and he didn’t want to sign a contract with an NRL club and have the ARU block him from playing for their test team.
Like most people in Australia, I couldn’t give a stuff about the Lions Tour. I won’t be watching any of the games. The crowds might be big but the series has not come close to breaking into the mainstream sporting conversation in Australia. We are all far more interested in Rugby League, the NRL, the State Of Origin series, the AFL in southern states, Soccer and even the train wreck that is the Australian Cricket team.
I for one look forward to seeing Israel Folau back on the Rugby League field and playing a sport that is relevant to Australian’s again.