Rugby's Rebels have upper hand in race to sign Folau
BY CHRIS BARRETT, MICHAEL COWLEY AND STATHI PAXINOS
The most wanted footballer in Australia, Israel Folau, is on the open market and in the sights of three separate codes, but rugby franchise the Melbourne Rebels still seems likely to secure his services.
Folau, 21, has passed up a two-year option at the Brisbane Broncos that would have kept him at the NRL club until the end of 2012. He was contractually obliged to tell the Broncos by yesterday if he wished to honour the final two years of his contract but made no such call.
Officially on the open market, Folau and his representatives, Titan Management Group, are understood to be considering offers from Super rugby franchise the Rebels and AFL expansion club Team GWS.
It is also conceivable that the Queensland and Australian three-quarter, who earns an estimated A$400,000 a season at Brisbane, could re-negotiate a new deal with the Broncos, or any other NRL club, beyond this year but that seems unlikely. The Rebels last night remained confident they will land Folau as their latest star signing for their debut season in the Super 15 in the face of a reported bid of A$3 million over three years by GWS.
Rebels officials are privately convinced he will accept their offer of about $600,000 a season, which includes an ARU top-up of $100,000 and third-party payments of $250,000.
''He's now got time to consider his options,'' acting Rebels chief executive Pat Wilson said. ''There's no [time] restrictions from us … we're hoping we're in the mix and we'll just wait and see.''
Rugby's push for Folau has come from Melbourne, rather than the ARU itself, but the governing body has chipped in with the top-up to help the fledgling Rebels establish themselves.
GWS chief executive Dale Holmes refused to confirm or deny his club had made a three-year offer of $1m a season for Folau, half of which is reportedly to be paid by the AFL.
''We're not going to comment on speculation because ever since the [Karmichael] Hunt-Gold Coast deal was done, what we have had is on-going speculation,'' Holmes said. ''We supposedly approached [Jarryd] Hayne, we have had the [Greg] Inglis-[Billy] Slater connection, and it's all been speculation.''
Doubts have been raised about just how successful Folau would be in the AFL arena. He is not noted for his kicking and there were suggestions yesterday his fitness would not suit the rigours of the game.
Melbourne Storm physical performance coach Alex Corvo said Folau was a tremendous athlete who had the leap and ability to make a good fist of playing AFL, but was conditioned for short, powerful bursts rather than constant running.
When he was at the Storm he often trailed forwards in endurance drills. ''He's not an aerobic athlete at all,'' Corvo said. ''The unlimited interchange in the AFL will certainly get a workout with Israel in the team.
''If he was to play a set position rather than a position in the mid-field, where he needs a lot of running, that might suit him a lot better. They might be able to park him in the goal square like Tony Lockett.''
AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said he was not aware if Folau was close to signing with GWS.
''I have no knowledge what his decision will be,'' Demetriou said on Melbourne radio. ''He's an outstanding athlete, I know that much.''
Folau's decision to pass on his Broncos option is not expected to cruel his chances of selection for Australia for next Friday's Test against New Zealand. ARL chief executive Geoff Carr indicated this week that a defection to rugby would inhibit his representative prospects but since he has not yet signed anywhere he should still be considered by selectors when they pick the Kangaroos team tomorrow.
''It's up to the selectors,'' Carr said. ''It's their call entirely - their brief is to pick the best team and also look towards the future. We'll rely on them to deliver that criteria.''
- Sydney Morning Herald