Folau finding AFL tougher than expected

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Israel Folau admits his cross-code venture has been harder than expected, but good mate Nic Naitanui is confident the former NRL star will succeed in the AFL.

Folau’s steep learning curve has become all the steeper in the past three weeks, with Greater Western Sydney beaten by a combined tally of 192 points in their first two AFL matches.

The 23-year-old, who first signed with the AFL’s expansion franchise in 2010 and played in the NEAFL last year, conceded on Thursday his transition from Steeden to Sherrin hasn’t been as facile as planned.

“It has been (harder than I expected). I thought it’d be a little bit smoother than how it’s been so far,” Folau said.

“It’s been tough so far. We’ve just got to stick together as a team and go for the year.”

Folau’s problems have not been unique to him.

GWS’s forward line has been largely starved of the ball, and the whole side would have been at a “pretty low point” after the 129-point loss to North Melbourne.

But while most of his teammates are having their first taste of professional sport, Folau’s lows are coming after unthinkable highs.

His debut NRL season in 2007 was arguably comparatively better than Joel Selwood’s with Geelong – at age 17 he won a premiership, scored a record number of tries and was crowned the Dally M Rookie of the Year.

He then became the youngest ever to play rugby league for Australia and represent Queensland in the code’s showpiece State of Origin series.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be in a good winning culture throughout my career and now I’m experiencing something on the other side,” Folau said.

“I think for me it’s just good in a way … it’s good for me as an athlete to experience what we did last week.

“You sort of bring yourself back down … and it’s going to be like this – a bit of a rough patch for us – throughout the year, so you just have to stick together as a team.”

Therein lies one of the biggest challenges for the super-competitive Folau, coming to terms with the likely one-sided nature of GWS’s clashes.

“I’ve played rugby league and it’s been tough – but I’ve got to say AFL’s been a little bit tougher mentally,” he said.

“Especially for me, coming to a new side where we’ve got a lot of young boys.

“It’s been hard mentally and that’s probably the thing I have to cope with throughout the year.

“…There’s a bit of improvement I can see, but it’s going to take time.”

For all his struggles, Folau has an ardent supporter in Naitanui.

“I can see where he’s at – I was there a few years ago,” said the West Coast ruckman who struck up a friendship with Folau when the pair were promoting the code in the South Pacific.

“He’s probably ahead of me at this stage in terms of my first few games … and 2010 (when the Eagles finished last) was probably the worst thing I’ve ever experienced.

“You can turn it around pretty quickly. We’re developing pretty fast over here so I don’t see why the Giants can’t do it as well.”

© AAP 2014
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