Israel Folau worth the punt?
DUAL AFL premiership-winning ruckman Shaun Rehn believes Israel Folau has all the attributes to become a star in the code.
Folau on Tuesday agreed to a four-year deal to join new AFL franchise Greater Western Sydney (GWS) that’s believed to be worth at least $4 million.
The 21-year-old NRL premiership player, State of Origin and Australian representative will join GWS in 2011.
And Rehn, who has settled at Newrybar and coaches the junior AFL Byron Magpies Under-14s, forecasts a five-year battle between the codes as they jostle for market share.
The former Adelaide Crow can see the merit in the move to poach from rugby league but also feels a loss at the grass-roots level.
“It depends what camp your foot is in,” Rehn said.
“We will know in time if it was money well spent – Folau has to be able to play the game.”
And Rehn sees no reason why he won’t make a good fist of it.
“From what I have seen he is a special talent,” he said.
“We play with an oval ball, as he does, so I can’t see it being too much of an issue.”
While many share those thoughts on the crossing-over of skills, much of the debate over Folau’s deflection has been about the amount of money that has been spent on him.
And much of the reasoning given by the AFL and GWS has centred on having a familiar face to appeal to youngsters who are potential code-hoppers.
In his role with the Byron Magpies, Rehn is seeing a shift towards his sport – and he is utilising it.
“We have a few ex-rugby boys in our team, as well as ex-soccer players,” he said.
“The kids who have played in the backs in rugby seem to catch on really quickly – they seem to know where the ball is.”
Rehn, whose 12-year 167-game AFL career began when he was 19, thinks the latest defections could soon create opportunities for many others.
“If Israel and (former NRL star) Karmichael Hunt can play the game then it will open doors for some time to come,” he said.
“It is going to be a really interesting five years.”
While some players on both sides of the AFL and NRL divide have come out and slammed the move to fork out millions for an unknown as a ‘slap in the face’, Rehn says plenty of players will benefit from the addition of GWS and Gold Coast Football Club to the AFL.
“There will be a fair few players out there who won’t be making any comment about the money Israel is getting,” he said.
“With the money being poured into the new clubs by the AFL there is a whole market of players whose prices could now become inflated.
“With offers from the new clubs floating about, off-contract players will have more pull within their club and will certainly command more money.”
Rehn agreed that the AFL’s ploy was an aggressive marketing move, and that the timing of the announcement smelt of sabotage.
Every time Folau is interviewed he will be asked about the switch – not a good look when he is wearing a Maroons jersey.
“I would imagine that when Israel and GWS came to terms, being that it was such a big sum of money, the AFL would have had the final say on how proceedings unfolded,” he said.