Ricky Stuart believes Israel Folau will be a bigger success on his return to the NRL than Sonny Bill Williams
BY Ricky Stuart – The Sunday Telegraph – November 04, 2012
Israel Folau and Sonny Bill Williams are coming back to the NRL. Source: The Daily Telegraph
THE question was put to me during the week who I thought would make the biggest splash next season, Israel Folau or Sonny Bill Williams.
Sonny Bill Williams.
He is coming back into the game in unusual circumstances, off the back of a fight. He can be outspoken, he has an outspoken manager in Khoder Nasser, and he doesn’t mind getting his name in the newspaper.
Now if you ask me who will be the bigger success, that’s easy, too.
Israel will have his mind focused on succeeding in football. He’ll have a professional focus, without distractions, without having to split his attention.
He has the talent to be anything he wants in the game – and he is now absolutely clear on what he wants.
That’s why the decision to go after Israel was an easy one.
For months the odd story leaked in the paper, or sometimes came up in conversation, that he was not happy playing AFL and might switch back to league.
On top of this, I knew he was from the western suburbs and his younger brother was at the Eels and he had a lot of close friends at the club.
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So it was always sort of there, waiting to be explored.
When I got the job at Parramatta I asked some of those close to him if they knew what he was thinking.
There was no grand plan in place to get him back, no series of covert meetings. Anyone who knows him is aware that he is a simple kid.
We spoke and we saw there was an interest, but he still felt tied to AFL.
It really wasn’t until he went on holiday and took himself away from everything – and gave himself a chance to clear his head for the first time – that he figured out his answer.
The indication of how quickly it all happened, once it got rolling, was that it all took place in a day.
He called AFL boss Andrew Demetriou and told him his decision. He told GWS chief executive Dave Matthews, and the way they helped him was first class.
I can see why their game is in the good state it is because they managed it superbly.
Demetriou told him that as long as he was being true to himself he would help him through it. That’s exactly what they did.
Rugby league is lucky Israel is coming back. Here at Parramatta, we’re fortunate that he wants to play with us.
The game needs to recognise that this is one of those chances that doesn’t often come around, much the same way the AFL did by poaching Israel in the first place.
Rugby league needs to capitalise on his return.
The game, as a whole, can benefit by Israel coming back if it is smart.
Recently we saw the ARL Commission announce its strategic plan for the next five years and what was clear was that the Commission is taking an overall approach to the game. One in, all in. Commissioner John Grant spoke about the players being role models, and for the need for the players to accept that and do their part.
This kid fits the bill.
The other great benefit is the maturity Israel possesses.
He left rugby league as a shy young kid, uncomfortable in public, almost awkward before the media.
He understood his role at the AFL was more than just as a player, that he was part of the marketing and image and promotion of the game.
He accepted that and grew with it.
That maturity doesn’t disappear now that he has returned to rugby league.
What position he might play if he comes to Parramatta is still to be decided.
Once again, he left the game as a winger or centre.
However, he comes back better equipped as a winger, centre or even fullback because of the skills he learned and running he needed to do in their game.
But so much has to happen before we even start worrying about where he will play.
Also what is certain is that he will be the biggest poster boy in the game. He has taken a pay cut to come back because he loves it, and he’ll be around for 10 years.
Winning the west is something all the codes are talking about lately. The AFL went after him for just that reason.
He sold the most GWS jumpers for the AFL, and now we’ve just taken him from them.