Australia's Folau switches to rugby union
SYDNEY (AFP) –
High-profile former Australian rugby league international Israel Folau is switching to union and will play for the NSW Waratahs next season.
It will be the third code for Folau, who most recently played Australian rules at the top level in the Australian Football League (AFL).
The announcement ends a month of intense speculation about the 23-year-old’s future since he cut short his multi-million dollar, four-year deal with AFL club Greater Western Sydney Giants on November 1, citing a lack of passion.
Newspapers last month suggested Folau, who had a successful career with Melbourne Storm and the Brisbane Broncos and played in the 2008 Rugby League World Cup, would head overseas to play union in France.
But he opted for the Waratahs in the Super Rugby series on a one-year contract.
“I’m really excited by this opportunity and looking forward to having a crack at union,” he said in a statement, adding that he was impressed by Waratahs coach Michael Cheika.
“We talked about what he wants to do with the team, the style of rugby he wants to play and the quality of the squad that he has, with all the Wallabies guys. That’s what got me interested.”
Cheika said Folau, who is renowned for his prolific try-scoring, was the perfect fit for the club.
“He’s a quality person. In the three or four times we’ve discussed rugby, he’s shown me that his character is A1 and he’ll fit exactly into the values we have here,” he said.
Folau will be playing alongside Wallabies such as Berrick Barnes, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Kane Douglas and the Australian Rugby Union suggested he could eventually join them in the national team, and even become an Olympian.
“Depending on his development as a rugby player, there is an opportunity for Folau to achieve higher honours, in Sevens as well as the 15-a-side game,” said ARU acting chief executive Matt Carroll.
“Sevens is now an Olympic sport and we are keen to build depth and profile for the game in the lead-up to Rio in 2016.”