NSW Waratahs fullback ISRAEL FOLAU enjoyed arguably the best debut international season of any former Australian Rugby representative, capping his first year in the game with a record 10 tries for the Qantas Wallabies.
Doubts that Folau would be able to handle the step-up to international Rugby in his first year playing the game were quickly silenced with his exceptional talents capturing headlines in Australia and abroad.
The 25-year-old former NRL and AFL representative initially blew expectations out of the water last June, justifying his Test selection by scoring a double on debut against The British & Irish Lions in Brisbane.
It was however his transition from the wing to fullback during the Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship that saw Folau progress to elite status and he was awarded Australian Rugby’s Rookie of the Year.
By the end of the Spring Tour, having featured in all 15 games for Australia in 2013, Folau equalled the record for the most tries by a Qantas Wallabies player in a single year, joining Lote Tuqiri (2004) on 10 tries.
In his try-scoring spree, Folau scored his first hat-trick against Argentina in Rosario; scored two tries on debut against the British & Irish Lions; and crossed for a five-pointer in matches against New Zealand, Argentina, Italy, Scotland and Wales.
In scoring two tries on debut, Israel Folau became only the 19th Wallaby to do so. His hat-trick against Argentina was also the first for Australia since Adam Ashley-Cooper’s trio against the United States in the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Folau’s meteoric rise to Test Rugby reliability came after just 14 games for the Waratahs, where he spent most of the Super Rugby season prowling the backfield as a fullback.
Powerful and athletic, Folau’s understanding of the game and ability to inject himself into situations improved with every game of Super Rugby.
And so too did his numbers. In his first season of Super Rugby, Folau had 131 carries, 22 tackle busts and 114 line breaks for a gain of 1,612 metres, culminating in eight tries.
Such was the speed of his development that Folau started in all three Tests of the Lions series and would surely have played every minute had a hamstring tweak not sidelined him 27 minutes into the third.
A stand out in rugby league, where he played both for Australia and Queensland in the famed State of Origin series; Folau terminated his 13-aside career after four years (2007-10) which saw him play 90 first grade games, appearing for two heavyweight NRL clubs in the Brisbane Broncos and the Melbourne Storm.
His decision to try his hand at Australian Rules Football was greeted with dismay by many, given his status as one of rugby league’s headline acts, while also being gleefully received in the AFL code as it took its tentative maiden steps in the competitive western Sydney sports market.
Although Folau’s two years with the fledgling Greater Western Sydney franchise generated more publicity than they did results; his achievement in playing 13 games was still significant given he had picked up the game from scratch, with no childhood background in AFL.
The similarities to the 13-aside code have made Rugby a more comfortable fit, which was illustrated from the start when Folau excelled in the pre-season trials before scoring a try on Super Rugby debut back at his former rugby league home ground: Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.
He is also the youngest ever Australian rugby league Test representative, making his debut at 18 years and 194 days.