Believe it or not, Israel Folau is not Karmichael Hunt
Karmichael Hunt’s after-the-siren goal to clinch the game for Gold Coast on Saturday was one of the best footy moments this year.
Hunt has been a revelation in his second year of AFL football, and has really vindicated the AFL’s decision to lure him away from the rugby codes in 2009.
He has come into his own as a defensively-minded midfielder, and his progress has drawn comparisons with fellow leaguie Israel Folau, who hasn’t exactly set the footy world on fire at GWS.
People are quick to draw parallels between the two code-switchers, but to do so is ignoring the fact that they are completely different players.
Sure, the two both have bulging wallets and are more familiar with scoring tries than kicking goals, but that is pretty much where the similarities end.
Fundamentally, they are fulfilling entirely different roles in their teams, and roles that require completely different approaches.
The smaller, nuggety Hunt has found his niche as a defensive midfielder.
On the other hand, Folau is being groomed as a key forward/part-time ruckman for the Giants, a role that takes time and patience.
Plenty of players with a lifetime of AFL experience take years to adapt to the level required of a key forward, and $1.5 million a year does not make it any easier.
Geelong’s Tom Hawkins and even Hawthorn superfreak Lance Franklin took years to establish themselves, and Melbourne’s Jack Watts is still developing.
Playing key position roles requires more than just the right body, which is the easy part of the transition.
Putting yourself in an ideal position when competing against the best in the country in a game with which you are unfamiliar will take time.
Folau’s talents under a high ball in rugby league have served him well, and there’s no doubt he can take a solid grab when he gets the opportunity.
But to get chances to show his talents, Folau needs two things: service and instincts.
The GWS midfield are still young, and while they attack the ball incredibly well, they are regularly beaten.
Folau will not get many opportunities when his teammates are being dominated in the middle. Even the best forwards can’t kick goals when the ball is parked in the opposition’s forward half.
This is when instinct comes into it. Great players can create something for themselves.
Gary Ablett shows week-in, week-out the potential that players need to be able to create chances out of nothing.
The best forwards put themselves in a position to take a mark whenever the ball comes into their 50. However, doing that consistently requires an almost automatic process that comes with experience.
As Folau gets more senior games into him, he will develop more awareness of his situation, where his opponent is, and how to beat them.
When that happens, he will be able to put himself in the best position in a contest and his teammates will be better able to reward him with opportunities.
And with Folau this week confirming that he is not planning to cut and run anytime soon, he has shown he is willing to put in the effort required to develop that knowledge.
People need to stop setting unfair standards for Folau purely based on the size of his salary, and start looking at him for what he is: a highly-skilled athlete adapting to the rigours of an unfamiliar game.
Folau is talented, he has committed himself to the cause, and his attitude means he will get there eventually.
Just don’t expect him to be kicking game-breaking goals anytime soon.