Folau opts for Union over League

Thu, 29 Aug 2013 07:09
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We've got a young squad and a great coach

Exciting outside back Israel Folau has rebuffed a return to the National Rugby League by signing a two-year deal with the Australian Rugby Union.

The ARU said Thursday that Folau, 24, had committed to the code after a stellar first season with the Waratahs that led to his outstanding Test debut for the Wallabies against the British and Irish Lions.

Folau, a former Rugby League international, has been a smash hit in Union since switching codes from AF - Australian rules football - and scored two tries in a memorable debut for the Wallabies in the first Test against the Lions in June.

"I've really enjoyed my first year for the Waratahs and being with the Wallabies," Folau said.

"Next year is going to be an exciting year for the Wallabies and Waratahs and I've still got more to offer. That's the reason I decided to stay.

"The World Cup [in 2015] is definitely a drawcard. To be a part of that would be an awesome experience, but that's still a long time away and we've got a lot to achieve in the meantime.

"We've got a young squad and a great coach and we're building our game. We're only going to get better.

"I've really enjoyed my Rugby experience so far. I've had the opportunity to travel and challenge myself all over the world. There's still a lot I can achieve in Rugby and that really excites me."

Folau has had a memorable and varied career - the youngest player, at 18, to make his rugby league Test debut for Australia, winning multiple State of Origin series with Queensland, an NRL grand final with Melbourne Storm and two seasons in the AFL.

He had been linked in reports with a return to the NRL and quizzed by reporters as to whether league club offers were not enticing enough, Folau said: "It's not so much the offers or anything like that.

"I still obviously watch the game [League] and support the game.

"It's just at the end of the day, I really enjoy what I'm doing at the moment with rugby and also looking down the track there's a lot of exciting things coming up for rugby and I want to be a part of that."

In making his Test debut for the Wallabies against the Lions, Folau became the only player to compete at the highest level in all three of Australia's contact football codes.

Folau was one of the shining lights of the Wallabies three-Test campaign against the Lions and scored a long-range intercept try in Australia's loss to the All Blacks in Wellington last weekend.

New Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie said Folau had made the transition to rugby union with surprising ease and he would continue to develop with more time in the game.

"There's unlimited potential, he's got a lot of really good attributes. He's enigmatic, he just does things a bit differently and it allows us to use him in different ways," McKenzie said.

"Every week we're finding more and more ways to use his unique skills," McKenzie said.

"There wasn't so much a question mark about whether he would be able to make the transition, it was more about how long it would take and he's certainly done it faster than most."

In making his Test debut for the Wallabies against the Lions in June, he became the only player in history to successfully compete at the highest level in all three of Australia's contact football codes.

In his first season of professional Rugby, Folau played 14 games for the Waratahs before being handed his first Wallabies jersey.

He quickly proved his call up was warranted, as the 24-year-old was one of the shining lights of the Wallabies three-Test campaign against the British & Irish Lions, starting in all three matches and scoring two tries on debut.

He has continued his development under new Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie, starting in the first two Tests of the Rugby Championship against the All Blacks and scored his side's only try in the most recent outing.

Folau is currently a member of the Wallabies squad for the Rugby Championship and will join the squad in Brisbane on Sunday, as they prepare for their third match of the tournament.

"We've had great support for the Wallabies this year and I hope it continues against South Africa and Argentina," Folau said.

"It definitely motivates you as a player when you look up and see so much gold in the stands."

The Wallabies host the Springboks in Brisbane next Saturday, September 7.

Other players to re-sign with ARU this year include: Ben Alexander, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Luke Burgess, Dave Dennis, Liam Gill, Scott Higginbotham, Michael Hooper, Rob Horne, James Horwill, Sekope Kepu, Pat McCabe, Ben McCalman, Stephen Moore, Wycliff Palu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson, Rob Simmons and James Slipper.