Waratahs should worry about Folau
Tim Sheridan
09:00 AEST Wed Dec 5 2012

Tim Sheridan is a reporter with Wide World of Sports and an integral member of the National Nine News team.
Tim Sheridan

Like the guy who grabbed the tiger by the tail, the Waratahs now have to figure out what to do with Israel Folau.

There doesn't seem much point in asking Izzy. As lovely a bloke that he is, the big fella was clueless about AFL, so it's hard to see him knowing the ins and outs of rugby when many who have been around it forever are struggling.

So what should new Waratahs coach Michael Cheika aim for with Izzy?

Right now the position label under Izzy's photo on the Waratahs website says "none". Perhaps "drawcard" might be more appropriate, but if Waratahs fans are indeed to see Izzy in action, sooner or later he's going to (presumably) come off the bench and jog to a position on the paddock.

Which one?

The path of rugby league players to the Waratahs wings is well trodden (Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuqiri) but this year they already have five wingers signed up. Two them – Drew Mitchell and Lachie Turner - are Test standard; two others – Peter Betham and Tom Kingston, only arrived last year while Michael Hodge is brand new. Somewhere along that queue, Izzy might've elbowed his way in.

Compiling a rugby league highlights reel for a Wide World of Sports feature on Folau a couple of years ago, it was interesting to see his aerial acts of genius all set out in a row. 'Air Izzy' can have more match day movements than Tullamarine. When he and the ball are both going forward towards the same spot behind the try line, usually it means points. AFL's matrix of kick-retrievals was a different story.

The obvious move would be to put Folau on the wing, but it would be sad to see him stuck freezing out on the edge and only occasionally seeing the ball off the end of Berrick Barnes's boot. Everyone wants to see the big man carrying the ball in light to medium traffic, superbly balanced, deceptively swift and relishing the contact.

Folau needs to go looking for the ball like an outsized Digby Ioane. Bring the ball back from quick throw-ins, float into Adam Ashley-Cooper's orbit in counter attack and field rugby's too-numerous high balls – all of these should be quickly on Izzy’s agenda. Given the number of dropped high balls we've seen in rugby this year, he couldn't do any worse. Maybe he'd make a good fullback, but Serge Blanco wasn't manufactured in a season.

It will take a while for Izzy to be anything but fodder when he carries the ball into a breakdown, but again his usefulness off the shoulder of the first receiver and as a roaming Digby-type around the field could be enormous. AFL was a different language; rugby at least is just a more complicated version of what he grew up with.

It's worth recalling what Sonny Bill Williams said about going from league to union. He and Folau are at least slightly similar in athletic gifts. SBW left league at the very top, but struggled in union. He had to leave the best provincial team in the world to flourish, and was finally at the top of the All Blacks heap in 2012, four years after changing codes.

Folau has signed for one year with the Waratahs. Expecting enormous things would be an insult to the five wingers already there.

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