The SportingJournal

Folau finds his calling

The thought of Israel Folau playing in front of 50,000 screaming and adoring fans this time last year would have GWS playing Collingwood at the MCG. At that point in time, Folau was an AFL player, representing GWS and playing a code that was foreign to him.

Move ahead 12 months and Folau is a dual international. Playing in front of crowds he hasn’t seen since the days he was an NRL player dominating for the Melbourne Storm and QLD in State of Origin, he’s playing a sport that is as natural to him as what AFL is to Gary Ablett.

For anyone that was able to witness Folau the AFL player and Folau the rugby player, you ask, “Why did he ever make the move to AFL?”

That is a question that only Folau can answer and the reality is, Folau may not even know the answer. It is definitive though that his sport of ultimate choice – rugby – is one that is in his DNA.

At Suncorp stadium on Saturday night, Folau returned home. It was where he dominated State of Origin for QLD. If fairytales do occur in sport, then it was fitting that Folau’s first game in Australian colours was at the home of his greatest triumphs.

In his test debut against the British & Irish Lions, Folau put in a clinical performance that had fans and interested spectators on their feet. It had people talking about him for the right reasons and not that of a mercenary to money. This alone was something he failed to do in his brief stint in AFL.

The power, speed, fast feet and ball handling ability he brings to the table is the best in Australian rugby. The site of him carrying two men on his back was of pure brute force.

When an AFL player, Folau lacked key fundamentals: awareness, game sense and a physical presence. This cannot be said of Folau the Rugby Union player. His positioning is flawless; he knows where to be, able to be part of the game on crucial plays and importantly, has a physical presence.

The god-given gift he was blessed with is being used for all the right reasons and not lumbering around an AFL ground hoping to get a kick.

When Folau first appeared in Australian sport, he was a shy young man with an enormous gift. In his NRL career, he scored tries at will and with grace.

The sight of a high bomb from Cooper Cronk or Cameron Smith going up to Folau’s wing and him leaping high over the opposition was unseen for several years. It changed the way rugby was played and the tactics that evolved.

When the announcement that Folau was moving from rugby league to AFL, eyes across the sporting landscape opened with surprise. “Why would a dominant player in one code with unfinished business move to a foreign code?”

Folau was and still is never one for public attention. So as GWS started their journey into the AFL, the decision to make him the face of the team was optimistic. How would he handle the attention from fans and the media?

As we quickly came to see, not very well.

Folau’s AFL career lasted as long as the number of goals he kicked. When the announcement that he was leaving AFL for rugby was made in September last year, there was a sigh of relief; not just from Folau himself – as his heart was never in it – and for all involved at the GWS.

With a journey that has seen him play three codes in as many years, the answer we have come to is this Israel Folau has found his calling and that calling is in the green and gold of Australia playing for the Wallabies.

For Australian sporting fans, let’s hope this journey is long and can fill Australian sporting hearts like he did when he first came to attention.

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