Waratahs see no risk in long-term deal for Folau

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

A new four-year deal for Israel Folau poses no risk - on or off the field.

That’s the view of NSW Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson and CEO Andrew Hore as Rugby Australia prepares to announce a deal that will keep Israel Folau in Australian rugby until 2022.

A Rugby Australia spokesman said the contract hadn't yet been "finalised" but it appears a matter of when, not if, that a new deal with the three-time John Eales medallist is revealed.

Speaking to media on Wednesday, both Hore and Gibson said Folau had completed the NSW side of the agreement and an announcement was in Rugby Australia’s hands.

“We've done our paperwork and signed everything from our end but it would be disrespectful of us to (give more details),” CEO Hore said.

“It's Rugby Australia's announcement to make and we would leave that to make at a time that they deem is appropriate.

“We've got to ask questions in and around it but on our side of things, it's been done.”

The Waratahs want to keep Israel Folau. Photo: Getty Images

On the field, Gibson is confident Folau, who will be 33 when this contract winds up, can continue to perform at an elite level as enters the twilight of his career.

“As you age as an athlete, you want to make sure that you're at your best and he's a remarkable athlete and I've got no doubt that he'd be able to pull that off,” he said.

Folau has had his fair share of off-field controversies this year, called into Rugby Australia headquarters after a series of homophobic posts created a social media storm.

Since that discussion, Folau has not shied away from posting religious images and Bible quotes but he has not mentioned specific minority groups.

It is believed his ongoing social media activity has been discussed in negotiations with Rugby Australia, but Hore said Folau’s social media use was of no greater concern than any other player from a NSW perspective.

“The key thing for us is that our players understand that they have obligations and...you get players that make mistakes - whether he believes it was a mistake or not is another point - but there is always going to be issues in and around players in public,” he said.

“You see it all the time in rugby league for example.

“It's an ongoing process, particularly with our young ones on respect and understanding and leadership development.

“I think Australian rugby as a whole, we've got some work to do in and around how we do that for our young people.

“We're better than other sports generally but it's an ongoing piece of work that we need to.”

Folau has been one of the Wallabies’ best since coming over from rugby league in 2013 and won the Waratahs’ Matt Burke Cup despite missing a month of the season in 2018.

Gibson pointed at that form amid the controversy this year to show that Folau could separate his personal and professional lives.

“I think you've seen Israel is very strong in his views and on the back of that he was our best player, voted by his peers,” he said.

“He's a remarkable performer, he's got an amazing ability to compartmentalise his performance and we're delighted that he's looking at that four-year deal.”

Folau is the second Wallaby to commit to a long-term deal in the past three months after national skipper Michael Hooper inked a contract through to 2023 and Brumbies prop Allan Alaalatoa is also on the verge of a four-year extension that will take him through to the 2023 World Cup.

Gibson said it simply made sense that these agreements would become more frequent with global movement becoming easier.

“I think you'll see those long-term contracts with those guys really earning that right.

“I think with Israel and Michael Hooper, you're seeing champion players being rewarded with longevity but also (for) the fact that year in, year out, they have performed and and they've shown that through those performances but also picking up awards year in, year out.

“I don't see that as a risk, I see that as a real opportunity to build a squad around two champion players and the likes of (Brumbies prop) Allan Alaalatoa, again someone who can anchor the Australian scrum for years to come, so it makes sense.

Folau is currently on tour with the Wallabies in Japan, ahead of their third Bledisloe clash against New Zealand in Yokohama on Saturday.