Dr Israel and Mr Folau

Cameron Rose Columnist

By Cameron Rose, Cameron Rose is a Roar Expert

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    GWS lost by 74 points to Hawthorn on Saturday, but such is the magnetic nature of Israel Folau, most talk out of the game centred on his outstanding second half.

    So, like Robert Louis Stevenson’s notorious Jekyll and Hyde, two personalities emanating from the same man, it appears there are now dual versions of this ex-rugby league superstar at AFL level.

    The first is a repressed, even timid, and uncertain, player, one who lacks confidence and conviction, struggling to make an impact. The other is the supreme athlete, a high-leaping contested marker of no small ability, and a ferocious tackler who wants to break bones and earn free kicks, but either one will do.

    If we look at his three NAB Cup matches in chronological order, then we are compelled to talk about the negative first.

    In both of his round one matches, and the majority of the first half against the Hawks, Folau was, for all intents and purposes, a non-entity. Despite a couple of handballs, the odd tackle, and a glimpse of the athleticism for which he is renowned, he looked as out of place as an Essendon supporter at a humility convention. Or, more pertinently, a Brisbane Bronco in an AFL jumper.

    There were the poorly timed leads, the misjudged leaps, and the lack of awareness in regards to where the ball was going, and what to do when it arrived. Admittedly, the delivery to him on many occasions was less than precise.

    For someone entering the game with limited experience, the forward line is the hardest place to do it. As a key position player, it’s even harder still. It is easier to destroy than create, easier to stop than start, easier to defend than attack.

    The old cliché is that defenders are simply the footballers who didn’t make it as forwards, and it has long been accepted that centre half forward is the hardest spot on the ground to play at AFL level.

    There is leading up the ground and back, double and triple leads in an attempt to lose your defender for a crucial half step that will enable you to take the ball uncontested if you get your timing right (timing which can elude even the greatest players from time to time).

    One needs a combination of mobility and strength, the endurance to run an opponent ragged, but the power to take pack marks against four opponents. It is hard enough for a 22 year old who has been playing the game all his life to do it, let alone one who hasn’t.

    An apt comparison in this regard might be Carlton’s Lachie Henderson, traded to the Blues as part of the deal that sent an ill-fated Brendan Fevola to the Brisbane Lions. The same age as Folau, he is 196cm and 95kg, which is comparable to Izzie’s 195cm and 100kg (and I figure that the latter will drop a few kilos as his aerobic capacity increases).

    Henderson was targeted as a forward, but couldn’t quite make the grade, and this was in a side that had been playing finals football. Last year he blossomed as a key defender when circumstances dictated a move to the back half.

    For Folau, who has played fewer games of Australian Rules than the average Victorian 12 year old, the enormity of the task he faces can’t be underestimated.

    So in light of the preceding, let’s examine his second half against the Hawks, and more specifically, his impressive third quarter.

    After noting Izzie’s struggles in the first half, coach Kevin Sheedy pulled out the time-honoured move of putting his key forward into the ruck. Not only did it give the impressive Jonathon Giles a chop-out, it got the six million dollar man into the game.

    Despite giving away a free kick due to a lack of awareness, he competed and contested. Sometimes in football, it is enough to feel the crunch of battle-hardened bodies on your own.

    Having had a run on the ball and being shifted back forward, with 11.42 left on the clock in the third term, the crowd was set alight. Leading hard to a Stephen Coniglio bullet, Folau was able to mark under pressure and a cheer went up of the warm, not the bronx, variety.

    Three minutes later, Adam Tomlinson sent a driving ball into the forward pocket. After initially looking out of position, Izzie athletically leapt across the front of two players, and ahead of his opponent, to again take a strong contested mark. His short pass found its target, so a score assist was also registered to the big man.

    Inspired by a couple of grabs, Folau found himself in the play again not two minutes later, applying a well-timed, bone-crunching tackle on Hawthorn’s Kyle Cheney, winning the free kick from a somewhat generous umpire. He kicked at goal tentatively, pulling it and missing from 35m out on a 60 degree angle, but if contested marking and defensive pressure inside fifty is what is asked of any key forward, then the GWS number four was delivering.

    Next up was his best mark of the match, with five minutes left in the quarter. With the Giants winning the centre clearance, Folau again led hard, and Matthew Suckling was wearing him tight.

    With two players running back with the flight into his space, Izzie jumped high, clunking another one, turning his body just so to keep Suckling at bay.

    This time he pushed the kick, but in seven minutes of football, he had announced to the world that he was here to play, not just to take the money and run, as had been speculated in some quarters.

    This short burst had netted four kicks for 0.2 and an assist, three contested marks, a tackle and a free kick. He had married an obvious will to compete and his inherent athleticism, with a natural talent for marking the ball under pressure at its apex that is harder to learn than it is to teach.

    Folau finished off the match with another nice mark across half forward in the last quarter, and with the benefit of a 50m penalty, was able to kick truly for his first goal of season 2012.

    His teammates came from everywhere to mob him, despite the 12-goal deficit on the scoreboard, in a display of unity and team spirit that will go a long way.

    In summary, Israel Folau has not arrived as an AFL player, and in fact has hardly begun his journey. There will still be times when Dr Israel goes an entire half without touching the ball, we will often see his name at the bottom of the disposals list when we look up the stats, and I don’t want him on the bench in my Dreamteam, but there are going to be times when Mr Folau lets the instinctive, athletic animal inside him out.

    When he does, he may take some stopping.

    Unlike the characters who inhabit Stevenson’s world, we want to see more of the Mister and less of the Doctor.

    Cameron Rose
    Cameron Rose

    Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.

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    The Crowd Says (47)

    • Roar Guru

      March 5th 2012 @ 8:20am
      The Cattery said | March 5th 2012 @ 8:20am | ! Report

      Good balanced article Cam. Izzy’s contested marks were very good, but as you say, there was plenty to suggest that there is still a lot of hard work ahead of him, which should come as no surprise.

      • March 5th 2012 @ 9:05am
        Australian Rules said | March 5th 2012 @ 9:05am | ! Report

        Yes, certainly a long road ahead. But that 2nd half was good for his confidence and especially good for the confidence of his teammates. If they see that he can lead and take contested marks, they’ll kick it to him.

        • Roar Guru

          March 5th 2012 @ 9:46am
          The Cattery said | March 5th 2012 @ 9:46am | ! Report

          Izzy might be on the way to earning the nickname: buckets.

    • March 5th 2012 @ 9:46am
      AFLguru said | March 5th 2012 @ 9:46am | ! Report

      Izzy certainly has the ability to become a great forward. When I say great, I don’t take that comment lightly because to become a really great power forward you have to have a certain build type.

      Izzy has that in spades, his body type is very rare indeed. To weigh close to 100 kg, have enough cardio capacity, be able to jump high, take a mark, turn on a dime and kick accurately is something special in AFL. Now not for one second am I saying he can do any of this, but he has accomplished the hardest thing in AFL to begin with and that’s to get a game. I don’t care how he accomplished this, the second hardest thing will be whether he can keep his spot.

      Buddy Franklin and Travis Cloke are the current reigning champs for best power forwards in the game in my opinion with Nick Riewoldt a close third. Izzy has the talent, we all know what he can do, especially people who follow league.

      What I would like Izzy to learn first is his position relative to his small forwards. Just look at how Franklin maneuvers himself in the forward line in contested situations. He as a general rule always brings the ball to ground for his small forwards to contest it, quite often in superior numbers due to the double teaming of Franklin himself. Izzy only needs to kick a goal or two a game, so long as he provides a contest at ground level for the crumbers.

    • March 5th 2012 @ 9:50am
      Rob said | March 5th 2012 @ 9:50am | ! Report

      Love the comparison back to Jekyll and Hyde. Regardless of what the knockers say, it’s an exciting experiment and of benefit to the game. It’s interesting to sit back and think about the humility comment, then again as an Essendon supporter I’m know I’m better than others so therefore don’t have to think.

    • March 5th 2012 @ 10:01am
      AFLguru said | March 5th 2012 @ 10:01am | ! Report


      Didn’t Stewart Lowe for Saint Kilda have a similar name due to the size of his hands, I can’t quite remember…

      • March 5th 2012 @ 10:11am
        camtherose said | March 5th 2012 @ 10:11am | ! Report

        Guru – Yep, that was Stewie Loewe’s nickname.

        Cattery – thanks for the compliment too mate.

        • Roar Guru

          March 5th 2012 @ 10:22am
          The Cattery said | March 5th 2012 @ 10:22am | ! Report

          heh, heh – I had Stewie Loewe in mind! He was one of the best centre-half forwards in his day, perhaps a notch below Wayne Carey, Loewe was in his last few years when Carey was made captain of North.

          Loewe got the nick name because of his enormous hands – and Sheeds has made a reference to Izzy’s hands on more than one occasion.

    • March 5th 2012 @ 10:09am
      B.A Sports said | March 5th 2012 @ 10:09am | ! Report

      Good for Izzy.

      At the end of the day he is a good kid, and while the remuneration obviously helps, he is under serious pressure doing something he doesn’t have a lot of practice at and his doing it infront of thousands every week, many of whom want to see him fail.

      I have no doubt that at the end of the year he will feature in the Top 10 marks of the season somewhere, his natural talent suggest he can do just anything. But hopefully he will be able to perform for his club week in week out as well. I think he can make it, so lets hope this is just the start of bigger and better things for the big unit.

    • March 5th 2012 @ 10:16am
      D.Large said | March 5th 2012 @ 10:16am | ! Report

      Good observations and a decent analysis of where Izzy is at.
      Will Izzy make it as a genuine dominating key forward in a good team??? No.
      Will he provide some excitement buzz and be a good 2nd or 3rd target forward??? Maybe.
      Maybe is better that what I would have thought 3 days ago.

      • Roar Guru

        March 5th 2012 @ 10:25am
        The Cattery said | March 5th 2012 @ 10:25am | ! Report

        Speaking of buzz – there will be times when Setanta and Izzy will be the two power forwards for GWS, sharing the forward 50m zone, it will be a bit like the blind leading the blind – but there might be entertainment aplenty!

      • March 5th 2012 @ 2:04pm
        Ian Whitchurch said | March 5th 2012 @ 2:04pm | ! Report

        D Large,

        Why do you think he is unable to be a dominating key forward ? He has the body, he has the burst, he has the hands and he has the kicking ability … its just adding the judgment and the tank, and both those things come with time and training.

        • March 5th 2012 @ 4:07pm
          D.Large said | March 5th 2012 @ 4:07pm | ! Report

          For the same reason that Lachie Henderson wasn’t able to and he was a kid who played football from Juniors. It will be the footy smarts, body positioning, reading the play that will get him. Its the same reason that Tommy Walsh from Sydney will also struggle to be a genuine power forward, its almost impossible if you havent done it all your life. If Izzy ends up as good as Setanta O’hAilpin he will have done remarkably well.

          • Roar Guru

            March 5th 2012 @ 4:53pm
            The Cattery said | March 5th 2012 @ 4:53pm | ! Report

            It’s certainly true that good big men are hard to find – and they are very hard to judge from an early age (as to whether they will make it or not) – very few get chosen at number one for this reason – Nick Riewoldt did way back, Jack Watts a few years ago, and General Patton last year, and he’s probably destined to become the best of the best.

            But the list of big forwards that get circulated through clubs with less than 10 games to their name is a long, long, long list.

            So yes, the odds are certainly stacked against Izzy, understandably so, and I’d agree that if he did as well as Setanta, that would be great in itself.

          • March 5th 2012 @ 8:59pm
            Ian Whitchurch said | March 5th 2012 @ 8:59pm | ! Report

            D Large,

            Watch the film again of the third quarter. See his forward pressure, and watch when he made the leads, and how he caught the footy. See where his arms are – thats a man who trained against Sos..

            Will he make it ? Dunno. Can he make it ? Yeah.

            • March 6th 2012 @ 8:11am
              D.Large said | March 6th 2012 @ 8:11am | ! Report

              Make no mistake Ian, I hope he does make it and with the admittedly low expectations I had for him I was genuinely impressed with what he was able to do in the 2nd half. But I stand by my opinion.

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