Titans reveal plans to poach Folau
THE Titans will ramp-up plans to bring Israel Folau back to rugby league, with coach Garth Brennan revealing his interest in poaching the Wallabies star from the Australian Rugby Union.
Speaking exclusively with The Courier-Mail, Brennan said the Titans could build their club around Folau as NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg backed the Coast's desire to lure Folau home to Queensland.
Folau is off-contract at season's end and revealed a fortnight ago he was in no rush to sign a new deal with the ARU, opening the door for NRL clubs to make a play for the multi-code superstar.
Now the NRL's poaching threat is real, with Brennan keen to hold talks with Folau, who turns 29 on Tuesday and is yet to commit to the Wallabies for next year's rugby World Cup.
"Israel is definitely someone I'm interested in," Brennan said ahead of the Easter Sunday derby against the Broncos, Folau's former club.
"Ultimately, 'Izzy' is a good person and he would be a wonderful ambassador for our club.
"I'm sure there's a lot of other clubs in the NRL also keen on him, but someone of his quality would help turn this club around.
"If Israel is keen to come back to rugby league, I am keen to talk to him."
The prospect of joining the Titans would represent a homecoming of sorts for Folau.
He grew up in Logan, 60km from the Gold Coast, and was first spotted by the Melbourne Storm as a teenager at Marsden State High.
Money could be one impediment to luring Folau home.
The 62-Test sensation earns around $2 million annually with the Waratahs and Australia, meaning he would have to take a significant pay cut to return to the NRL.
"Obviously his pay packet is an issue, but I'm certainly be willing to look at him," Brennan said.
"I have to look at our salary cap position and see where things sit. I'm not sure if the NRL can help out and whether they would assist us in bringing him back to the game ... that's something I need to look into."
Greenberg welcomed the Titans' interest in Folau, but says the much-vaunted "war chest" that existed under former NRL Dave Smith to help poach players from rival codes is no longer in place.
It means if the Titans want to snare Folau, they will have to solely fund the poaching bid.
"Everyone agrees Israel is a super player and he would create interest at any club he joined," Greenberg said.
"But any club wanting to sign him would need to do so from their existing salary cap.
"There is no central fund for helping clubs to purchase players, and the clubs now have a much greater salary cap at $9.3 million so they can afford star players within their own means."
Folau hasn't played in the NRL since 2010, when he scored 20 tries in as many games for the Broncos before his shock move to the AFL.
Former Brisbane skipper Darren Lockyer, a former teammate of Folau, believes the former Origin and Test flyer would be a sensation at the Titans.
"I'm sure league fans would love to see Israel back in our game," Lockyer said.
"Izzy has a good reputation, he's a great player and people will come and watch him play footy.
"The Titans will have learnt their lesson from spending a lot of money on one player from the Jarryd Hayne experience.
"You have to buy a player for the right reasons and they have to win football games. If a player has profile and can bring corporate dollars, that's great, but it must come secondary to what they deliver on the field. The Titans need a player who can add value to them.
"Israel could come back and play fullback. The Titans have Michael Gordon and he's getting on, so he could be a good fit for the club."
Broncos skipper and former Origin teammate Darius Boyd said: "It'd be cool to have Israel back. He is a humble guy who has done a lot in the game.
"He is the face of rugby now. He is their man. I don't see the ARU letting him go. I reckon they will throw the kitchen sink at him."