Marquee Qantas Wallabies and NSW Waratahs fullback Israel Folau has committed his long-term future to Australian Rugby after signing a three-year flexible contract through until at least the end of 2018.
Folau has been a key figure for Australian Rugby on and off the field since joining Rugby Union in 2013, and has since played in all 29 Test matches for the Qantas Wallabies over the past two seasons.
Such is his talent, Folau has scored 17 total tries in those Test matches, including his memorable two-try performance in Australia’s opening match of the historic British & Irish Lions series in 2013.
His meteoric rise in the code was recognised when the 26-year-old claimed the John Eales Medal and Super Rugby Player of the Year Award in 2014, capping off a remarkable year where he also played a significant role in the NSW Waratahs capturing their maiden Super Rugby title.
Folau said he was thrilled to have his long-term future finalised with Australian Rugby.
“I’ve already had so many great moments and experiences in Rugby over the past few years, but I feel like I am still just scratching the surface of what I am capable of, which is something that really excites me,” Folau said.
“Michael Cheika has also created a team environment which players really want to be part of, and that for me was one of the most important things when weighing up my future.
“He has created a culture that is extremely hard to walk away from, but just as importantly, it’s an environment which challenges you every day to be a better player and person.
“In the end, there is still so much I want to achieve playing Rugby in Australia and am thrilled to now have my contract sorted through until the end of 2018.”
Australian Rugby Union CEO Bill Pulver said re-signing Folau on a long-term deal was a significant moment for the code in Australia.
“There is no denying Israel’s extraordinary talent on the field, but equally impressive is the way he represents himself and the game off the field,” Mr Pulver said.
“There are a lot of young boys and girls playing in schools and junior rugby that want to be next Israel Folau. He is the ultimate role model for aspiring young rugby players and a great ambassador for Australian Rugby. Rugby as a whole will benefit immensely from Israel’s ongoing presence in the game.”
Qantas Wallabies and NSW Waratahs coach Michael Cheika said it was important to retain a player of Folau’s calibre in Australia.
“Israel is one of Rugby’s truly world-class individuals, and he is the type of person and player that you want setting the standards in any team environment,” Cheika said.
“He has developed his game so much in the two and a half years since he initially joined the Waratahs, and I know he has a burning desire to continue growing as a player over the next few seasons.
“He works extremely hard at being the exceptional talent he is, and is someone all Australian Rugby fans can be excited about seeing in the gold jersey for a long time yet.”
Folau is one of world Rugby’s most damaging players, which was again highlighted during the Qantas Wallabies’ 2014 Test campaign where he won the Castrol EDGE Strong Performer Award for his Man of the Series efforts against France, along with dominant performances all throughout The Rugby Championship and Spring Tour.
Such has been his impact that Folau in 2014 became the first player to top the season try-scorers' list in both Super Rugby (12 tries in 2014) and the National Rugby League (21 tries in 2007).
His efforts came after his debut Super Rugby campaign in 2013, where he also became the first player to complete the NRL and Super Rugby Rookie of the Year double.
Folau enjoyed arguably the best debut international season of any player to have worn the gold jersey. 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.
The then 25-year-old former NRL and AFL representative initially blew expectations out of the water, justifying his Test selection by scoring a double on debut against The British & Irish Lions in Brisbane and in doing so became only the 19th Wallabies player to achieve the feat.
His hat-trick against Argentina in 2013 was also the first for Australia since Adam Ashley-Cooper’s triple against the United States in the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
It was however his transition from the wing to fullback during The Rugby Championship that saw Folau progress to elite status and he was awarded Australian Rugby’s Rookie of the Year.
A stand out in the National Rugby League (NRL), where he represented both Australia and Queensland, Folau terminated his 13-a-side career after four seasons (2007-10) and 90 first grade games for the Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos. In 2011 he went on and played Australian Rules Football (AFL) and enjoyed two years with the Greater Western Sydney Giants.