Israel Folau: Gone but not for nothing

Michael DiFabrizio Columnist

By Michael DiFabrizio, Michael DiFabrizio is a Roar Expert

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    Israel Folau contemplates his future during his final appearance in GWS Giants colours (Image: Slattery)

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    On the field, Israel Folau’s AFL career can be described as a flop, an abject failure, a horror show, a waste, a disaster … you name it.

    After just 13 games and an almost nonexistent highlights reel, these adjectives are 100% on the money.

    But there’s a few – or more precisely, a lot more than a few – people willing to brand Folau’s entire AFL career as these things.

    Both the on- and off-field aspects, apparently, have been a flop or failure or disaster.

    Some of it is part of the senseless cross-code point-scoring that goes on these days. Some, though, is from fans of other AFL clubs who never took the time to understand why the game would go after an NRL player.

    Either way, to brand the entire experiment a failure is wrong.

    Folau had already repaid what the AFL invested him in with the publicity his signing generated. If the league were to take out advertisements on all the property media outlets gave to Folau and the Giants in the ensuing couple of days, the total cost would equal if not exceed Folau’s contract.

    The publicity, be it good or bad, did not stop after two days, either. There was a lot of the bad, it’s true. “$6 million, 80 minutes … 3 touches,” was The Australian‘s headline after … wait for it … a NAB Cup game.

    But let’s be honest, in what other circumstances would a NAB Cup game generate anywhere near the same kind of attention?

    There were other advantages to having someone with that profile, too. School visits that would’ve otherwise had kids scratching their heads or counting down to recess were instead massive occasions that had kids in awe and prompted more interest in the Giants.

    Sending a couple of first-year players no one in the assembly hall had heard of before would not have made the same kind of impact.

    There were commercial benefits, too. Given the Giants were unable to land a big Gary Ablett-type fish, Folau was a player that many fans latched on to.

    Kevin Sheedy tweeted the following in September: “Interesting fact – 72 per cent of Giants jumpers sold this year have number 4 on the back. That would be Israel Folau.”

    This proves Folau’s off the field impact was so much more than just the publicity he generated those first two days of wearing a charcoal media polo.

    It doesn’t cover up what happened on the field. Folau scored two goals in his 13 AFL games as a forward. Even Karmichael Hunt scored one in his debut year, and that was as a defender.

    In truth, there were a number of factors that held back Folau on the field. His size meant he was always going to take longer to develop than Hunt. Think how long it took another big man, Mike Pyke, to transition from a similar sport.

    There was the footy “nous” that was lacking and a struggle to grasp some of the game’s more fundamental skills.

    The other glaring concern was his passion for the game which, as Folau admitted yesterday, wasn’t there.

    An underrated factor is that he entered the competition, just like Jack Watts, at a time the game moved away from the “key forward” towards the “power forward”. The shift made Watts, the best junior for his age, look woefully out of his depth on an AFL field. It even made a champion, Nick Riewoldt, go from 9-10 marks and 2-3 goals a game to looking decidedly more human (he averaged 7 marks and just 1.6 goals in 2011 and took even less marks in 2012).

    Folau is the same height as Watts and Riewoldt and even though he’s a bit heavier than them, it’s clearly not because of his arms.

    But this was just one factor along the journey. The significance of it was that it was one that couldn’t be foreseen.

    That it would be a long transformation was always evident. That passion for the game would need to develop goes without saying.

    Ultimately, though, while Israel Folau may have been an on-field flop, that shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of how this experiment is measured.

    He played a big part in ensuring the Giants’ media relations efforts weren’t a flop.

    He played a big part in ensuring many community or school visits weren’t a flop.

    He played a big part in ensuring guernsey sales weren’t a flop.

    Frankly, he even played a big part in ensuring people knew who the Greater Western Sydney Giants were. Ensuring they simply had a presence.

    If the Giants failed to at least tick these boxes, we’d all be talking about a much more significant flop than the one we are today.

    For that, the game has a lot to thank Folau for.

    Michael DiFabrizio
    Michael DiFabrizio

    Michael DiFabrizio is based in Mildura, Victoria. He has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, leading to appearances on ABC News 24 and in the Age. Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelDiFab.

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    The Crowd Says (82)

    • Roar Guru

      November 2nd 2012 @ 10:13am
      mds1970 said | November 2nd 2012 @ 10:13am | ! Report

      He was useful marketing value, and played a major role in building awareness of the GWS Giants brand. Sadly, he wasn’t able to make it as a player.

      I submitted an article this morning with more thoughts on Folau. But although it’s sad to see him go, the time is right. With room opened up in the salary cap, and an opening for a tall forward, it looks like all the stars are aligning for GWS to get Kurt Tippett.

      • November 2nd 2012 @ 11:15am
        grant said | November 2nd 2012 @ 11:15am | ! Report

        Without Folau, GWS would still be virtually unknown. He was a gimmick, but a necessary one in a media environment that won’t give the AFL an even break.

        • November 8th 2012 @ 10:00am
          cos789 said | November 8th 2012 @ 10:00am | ! Report

          An even break? The Sydney media gives the AFL a very healthy share of publicity given the lack of interest in it.

          Its up to the AFL to make people interested in AFL, not the media. The media is there to report to an audience events the audience is interested in.

          The media markets simply reflect the interest that exists. Sydney doesn’t really care for AFL, so it will struggle for column inches. Rugby League has an even harder task in Melbourne.

      • Columnist

        November 2nd 2012 @ 11:44am
        Michael DiFabrizio said | November 2nd 2012 @ 11:44am | ! Report

        mds, if Kurt wants to be there he’d be a wonderful asset to pick up. I was a bit worried about how another tall forward would help a team that already has Patton and Cameron, but the game has evolved to the point where Dean Cox can be named forward pocket for the All Australian team, so I’ve come around. Three talls, provided at least one can back up in the ruck, can work.

        • Roar Guru

          November 2nd 2012 @ 11:56am
          mds1970 said | November 2nd 2012 @ 11:56am | ! Report

          Three could work. Four couldn’t. There wouldn’t have been a place for Izzy.

      • November 2nd 2012 @ 12:30pm
        Pot Stirrer said | November 2nd 2012 @ 12:30pm | ! Report

        I thought the majority of his salary was a marketing component paid by the AFL and not the Giants ? Why would the Giants agree to pay an unproven player millions, how does this then free up cap space ?

        • November 2nd 2012 @ 1:19pm
          Matt F said | November 2nd 2012 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

          Most was paid by the AFL but the Giants were paying a portion of it (supposed to be around $200-300k.) That alone land Tippett but it will contribute, though if Tippett sticks to his guns and tells GWS that he only wants to play for Sydney I don’t think GWS will take him. It’s a lot of money to spend on a player who wants to be elsewhere

          There’s a salary floor that clubs have to pay every year which I think is about 90-95% of the total salary cap. Given that GWS have a lot of first year players on minimum wage they were left with a lot of cap space that they had to spend so 300k (if that’s an accurate figure) towards Folau isn’t so unusual given his commercial value at the time.

    • November 2nd 2012 @ 10:50am
      Gob Bluth said | November 2nd 2012 @ 10:50am | ! Report

      Plenty of untested statements in there. With crowds at 6,500 for the Giants it is hard to argue he really got the turnstiles ticking over. The author provides no data to support his claim about guernsey sales (I’ve never seen more than a handful) or school visits (kids get excited about doing something out of class..shock horror!). Also given they paid him 2 million dollars that actually could have bought a hell of a lot of advertising space and you also need to subtract from the total all the negative articles which have also appeared from day one, unless you are a complete AFL tragic who believes all news is good news. If so, send Adelaide a bottle of champers.

      No one who stands back and looks at it abjectively can say job well done, but the full truth on it may become more apparent next year.

      • November 2nd 2012 @ 2:47pm
        Murph said | November 2nd 2012 @ 2:47pm | ! Report

        The Giants are not a two, five or even ten year venture. The AFL is planning a generation ahead. While Folau pulling the pin is a disappointment, it’s not, and never was, going to make or break the Giants. If the Giants are self-supporting in twenty years, I think the AFL would be delighted (and surprised).

    • November 2nd 2012 @ 10:51am
      Col said | November 2nd 2012 @ 10:51am | ! Report

      Sound logic MDF. I think the AFL/Giants would be happy with the publcity they got out of Folau in their start up phase. But I feel that was only half of the reason they targeted him in the first place.

      I think the other reason they signed him was to show/prove that the AFL/Giants can turn league players into AFL players. If the Giants are to get a real foothole in GWS then they need to show that they can turn kids, who have never kicked an aussie rules ball in their lives, into AFL players. Folau had done the promotion well, he gave GWS a face, if you like. It was now time to turn him into an AFL footballer, time to show the kids of western Sydney (particularly the 14-18 year olds who had only played league), that playing AFL was now a realistic goal – Israel Folau can do it, so can you right? But it appears he’s pulled the pin on the second half of the deal which is a shame for the Giants.

      As you say, good value off the field to start with, but I reckon not getting the on field job done could set them back quite a few years.

      • Columnist

        November 2nd 2012 @ 11:35am
        Michael DiFabrizio said | November 2nd 2012 @ 11:35am | ! Report

        Yeah, that was definitely part of it, Col. The hope was that if it worked out, young league players or Polynesian kids would look at the game in a different light. On this I’d point out the AFL still have Karmichael showing what’s possible, although he wouldn’t be appealing directly to the kids of western Sydney. Worst case scenario is the AFL are back to where they started with this demographic. I don’t think you could say they’ve gone any further backwards.

        • Roar Guru

          November 2nd 2012 @ 5:12pm
          jeznez said | November 2nd 2012 @ 5:12pm | ! Report

          Michael it would be pretty easy to make an argument that kids would be looking at the result and say,

          ‘Israel Folau, a guy who smashed NRL records by the age of 21, couldn’t make the switch. Guess I shouldn’t try switching either.’

          It is debatable whether that is worse than an attitude of never even considering a switch in the first place. Personally I lean towards slightly worse if that is the outcome.

          If there was an intention to show young league players and particularly Polynesian kids that AFL is a viable option then I think they chose their example player spectacularly poorly. It ranks up there with the NRL decision to take Garrick Morgan from Union to League all those years ago.

          Anyone from the sport giving up the player who had any understanding of the code they were going to would have known that there were big physical problems with the players making the switch.

          • November 2nd 2012 @ 5:19pm
            TC said | November 2nd 2012 @ 5:19pm | ! Report

            Kids don’t think that deeply about sport – have a ball – will play – regardless of what it is.


            • Roar Guru

              November 2nd 2012 @ 5:50pm
              jeznez said | November 2nd 2012 @ 5:50pm | ! Report

              Kids thinking about playing professionally think a bit deeper. Most of those with the ability to make it as a top line sports person have a few options in front of them and certainly find themselves committing to one at some stage.

          • Columnist

            November 2nd 2012 @ 6:48pm
            Michael DiFabrizio said | November 2nd 2012 @ 6:48pm | ! Report

            jeznes, you’re right in what you say. If we accept these hypothetical kids exist, many will probably scared off by the Folau experience. But there will also be a strong number who never even considered it in the first place, so it’s hard to judge the exact impact.

            If we are also to assume these kids are deep thinkers, then there’s still the Karmichael Hunt example to look at, and – of course – the fact Folau was earning extra money playing AFL could also come into it.

            So that’s why I’m hesitant to say things have gone backwards.

            • Roar Guru

              November 3rd 2012 @ 5:49am
              jeznez said | November 3rd 2012 @ 5:49am | ! Report

              Fair enough mate, am mostly playing devils advocate.

              Am curious what names would be thrown up of the guys who might make not just succesful cross-overs but great cross-overs. I don’t think Folau given the aerobic requirements of the game was a great option, despite his size and leaping/catching ability.

    • November 2nd 2012 @ 11:03am
      Jonesy74 said | November 2nd 2012 @ 11:03am | ! Report

      The AFL took a bath on this one. As a sports fan it annoyed me from the start.

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download it now [].

      • November 2nd 2012 @ 11:18am
        Christo the Daddyo said | November 2nd 2012 @ 11:18am | ! Report

        How did the AFL take a bath? I have no problem with you being annoyed about it personally, but I don’t see how the AFL took a bath on the deal.

        • November 2nd 2012 @ 11:25am
          Boz said | November 2nd 2012 @ 11:25am | ! Report

          Two million dollars to kick two goals is a bath. And Forget about the spin that he was good publicity. Most of that will be wiped out now he has left before his contract was due, with all the publicity now being bad for the AFL.

          • November 2nd 2012 @ 7:02pm
            Mike said | November 2nd 2012 @ 7:02pm | ! Report

            I agree Boz – the NRL will probably send him out to the same schools to speak to the same kids he saw this year talking AFL to reinforce the NRL message. Any good marketing or publicity for the AFL will be reversed two fold. This is a failed exercise at every level.

        • November 2nd 2012 @ 11:38am
          Jonesy74 said | November 2nd 2012 @ 11:38am | ! Report

          A bath big daddyo, no other word for it. To throw up 72% of .000000001% of Sydney jersey sales as a key argument, proves that there were plenty of bubbles.

    • November 2nd 2012 @ 11:31am
      Brian Hughes said | November 2nd 2012 @ 11:31am | ! Report

      This inappropriate comment has been removed. The Roar is a place for respectful sporting debate. Thanks, Roar mods.

      • Columnist

        November 2nd 2012 @ 11:40am
        Michael DiFabrizio said | November 2nd 2012 @ 11:40am | ! Report

        Brian, there’s no need for this kind of rhetoric. Karmichael Hunt has been happy enough with the game to sign a contract extension. Both league and Aussie Rules have their pros and cons, and there will be players suited to one game rather than another. If you start up this debate it’s only going to go in circles.

        • November 2nd 2012 @ 2:38pm
          planko said | November 2nd 2012 @ 2:38pm | ! Report

          Michael, Karmichael Hunt is a 200k player at best. GWS and Isreal Folau as a franchise is not a bath it is an Olympic sized swimming pool …. On the flipside I do like the way the AFL gets involved with the ownership of their grounds.

          • November 2nd 2012 @ 3:50pm
            josh said | November 2nd 2012 @ 3:50pm | ! Report

            200K for the club maybe. He’s worth more for the AFL, that’s why the AFL pay home most of his salary.

          • November 2nd 2012 @ 8:14pm
            mick h said | November 2nd 2012 @ 8:14pm | ! Report

            elaberate ownership of grounds they will never own the scg,anz or the showground

    • November 2nd 2012 @ 11:35am
      zach said | November 2nd 2012 @ 11:35am | ! Report

      The AFL has taken risks in an era when nearly everyone else is risk averse – not just in recruiting Folau, but in establishing the GWS itself. It was predictable that at every perceived setback there would be people who would come out and cry disaster – this is Australia after all.
      The thing is that the AFL has led the way in forward thinking since the 80’s when they first embarked on expansion. Imagine where our game would be today if they hadn’t.
      From day one the AFL has faced a hostile media in Sydney and that is just as strong today. Recruiting Folau was only necessary for a publicity point of view to balance this out.
      In the end Folau didn’t have what it takes (his barb about “lacking passion for the game” is just the sour grapes of a loser). Never mind, Karmichael Hunt may succeed where Folau failed. In the long run our game will benefit from the courage of the AFL to think ahead.

      • November 2nd 2012 @ 11:52am
        Jonesy74 said | November 2nd 2012 @ 11:52am | ! Report

        hey zack, less of the ‘loser’. I am pretty sure he has still played more top level AFL than you.

      • November 2nd 2012 @ 12:02pm
        Ken said | November 2nd 2012 @ 12:02pm | ! Report

        ‘his barb about “lacking passion for the game” is just the sour grapes of a loser’

        Are you sure it was a barb? It doesn’t seem that hard to believe that a guy who switched to a sport he had never played before because of big bags of money could find that he lacks passion when faced with an uphill struggle to become a star a couple of years later when the thrill of the money has worn off. Actually it sounds rather obvious – so obvious that if you take a glance through the huge threads that were up here a couple of years ago you’ll see a whole chorus of people pointing out this rather likely conclusion.

        The one thing you can say about Folau is that despite his habit of annoying the public by turning his back on his tribes (firstly playing for QLD and then AFL and now back to RL) he doesn’t appear to have a mean bone in his body and that’s despite of all the cynicism that’s followed him throughout his career.

      • November 2nd 2012 @ 12:10pm
        Boz said | November 2nd 2012 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

        Nice one Zac. I’m sure there are plenty of things you’re not good at as well, but I doubt you would consider yourself a loser. The AFL may be forward thinking, but their signing of Falou was perceived by many to a sign of arrogance.

      • November 2nd 2012 @ 1:10pm
        Diablo said | November 2nd 2012 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

        The AFL never had any ‘forward thinking’ until it was too late. Ron Barassi was right when he said Aussie Rules should have established a Sydney team in the 30’s not the 80’s. AFL may never become a truly national game now and the TV ratings don’t show any real growth in the sport despite what the propagandists say.

        • November 2nd 2012 @ 9:59pm
          Fitzy said | November 2nd 2012 @ 9:59pm | ! Report

          Are you for real? Some people think they can make any BASELESS statement and get away with it. It is played in every state, it is the most popular and is AUSTRALIAN. These little facts always get overlooked, in relation to Izzy he came he played, he listened to all the negative talk on both sides of the fence and now he has gone. I wish him well, he tried a new game good on him. The game will survive and his influence will be forgotten, what code dosn’t make mistakes. Just don’t knock the game.

      • November 2nd 2012 @ 2:41pm
        planko said | November 2nd 2012 @ 2:41pm | ! Report

        Setting up a team where most reitied victorians live (GOLD COAST) was a no brainer not a risk. Setting up a second team in Sydney was just stupid not risky.

        • November 2nd 2012 @ 7:39pm
          Brewski said | November 2nd 2012 @ 7:39pm | ! Report

          Retirees don’t keep your football club ticking over, and they usually don’t have the disposable income, there is a quite big grass roots base of Australian Football on the GC as evidenced by the GC JAFL

      • November 2nd 2012 @ 7:00pm
        Brewski said | November 2nd 2012 @ 7:00pm | ! Report

        Zach ..i agree, Folau to me, great athlete he is, is lazy, he quits the day before pre-season training starts, and GWS had a 5k time trial.

        He did not think it out, and thought it would be easier, i did not see many GWS games, but from what i did see, his teammates did not look for him.

        Lack of mental strength IMO

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