Crikey Sports introduces Nick Tedeschi who writes for Punting Ace with his weekly From The Couch article — “one of the most popular rugby league pieces anywhere.”
Punting Ace’s Nick Tedeschi writes:
The AFL has purchased more than they bargained for with Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau and it is going to cost the organisation more than the $7 million they will pay the two over the next three years.
There is no doubting the athletic prowess or sporting pedigree of Israel Folau. Folau was the youngest player to ever represent the Australian rugby league team. He has played in two series wins for Queensland. He has won a premiership at Melbourne. In 80 appearances for Melbourne and Brisbane he has scored a remarkable 63 tries and over that period he has won 75% of his matches and has not missed a finals series in three years of NRL football. He was named Dally M Rookie of the Year in 2007, topping the try scoring list that season with 21 while in 2008 he was named Dally M Centre of the Year.
Only time will tell whether Folau’s profile of athletic attributes transfers to Australian Rules football but on first glance it would appear unlikely. Folau has certainly never displayed any kicking abilities in rugby league and while it certainly isn’t his role to kick he has shown little aptitude for it when called on to do so. Wendell Sailor would appear to be proof that an ability to kick is a very difficult flaw to overcome when kicking is required as Sailor found out in union.
Folau’s aerobic prowess is reportedly low with a Storm insider stating he had one of the smallest tanks at the club. That could prove extremely detrimental in a game where running all day is a very important tool. There is no doubting Folau’s ability to leap and catch, his trademark in rugby league. The transition on that front may not be quite so simple, however, as Folau’s current technique would see him pinged for a plethora of in-the-back calls.
Not that this is probably all that important now to either the AFL or Folau. Folau is nothing more than a dancing bear to the AFL. His salary is justified by his name and name alone. Folau was bought in to embarrass the NRL, give recognition to the new Greater Western Sydney franchise, to provide a Polynesian role model in the AFL and get AFL into newsprint north of the Murray. Despite all the talk of wanting a challenge, Folau is simply in it for the money and nothing more. Folau seemingly has a very liberal interpretation of honesty. He claimed to want out of the Storm because he was homesick and wished to be with his family in Brisbane yet a little over a year later he has made the decision to again head south.
At this stage, neither the AFL nor Folau are all that worried about Folau’s ability with a Sherrin. The future seems bright and the possibilities endless.
It seems doubtful, however, that either the AFL or Folau himself seem to have considered the negativity that Folau’s signing can and quite possibly will bring to the AFL.
For starters, the AFL’s snatching of Folau is viewed as nothing more than a cheap and transparent publicity stunt. It is not endearing the people of Sydney to the AFL or even piquing their interest. Such a stunt may have worked in a bygone era but in these times of modern sophistication it is viewed for exactly what it is: a major organisation treating the general public like idiots. The AFL has banked on car crash publicity and they have cheapened their brand, at least in New South Wales and Queensland, because of it.
More concerning for the AFL, however, should be the obvious level of unhappiness Folau’s signing has caused within the playing ranks of the league. Brendan Fevola has slammed the level of Folau’s pay-packet and rightly argues that AFL players should feel slighted that those who have never played the sport are now the highest paid players in the league. The level of dissatisfaction is obvious and it will seep from stars like Gary Ablett and Chris Judd to toilers on the minimum wage. This could lead to one of two things: constant grumbling or a wage spiral that the AFL will be required to pay for.
The possibility that Folau could be a miserable failure who never steps out for GWS in an AFL game must also concern the AFL. The chance of failure is very real and it would be a tremendous humiliation for both the AFL and Folau if he was to fail at the game and head back to the NRL with his tail between his legs.
Folau may turn out to be a superstar in the AFL. I am not an AFL scout and I cannot tell you what makes a gun player. It does appear that the AFL is taking a significant risk with Folau though and the off-field payoffs won’t be nearly what the AFL hoped for. They are hoping to damage the NRL but Folau’s loss does nothing to hurt rugby league’s public image. They are hoping to win support for the GWS through Folau but Folau is not a big enough draw to bring in any long-term support. They are hoping Folau will open the door to the Polynesian community but failure by Folau will shut that market off for the better part. They are trying to grab headlines in Sydney newspapers.
Well, at least on the final front the AFL got themselves a win.