Beale relishing fullback switch but worries about Israel Folau's well-being

Super Rugby
by Iain Payten

Kurtley Beale says he is worried about the well-being of his mate Israel Folau but is relishing the challenge of replacing him at fullback for NSW, and he will stick his hand up for Wallabies duty at no.15 too, if required.

Beale shone at fullback last weekend after being shifted there for the Waratahs in the wake of Folau's suspension, and he'll be there again when NSW take on the Sharks at the new BankWest Stadium in Parramatta on Saturday night.

It was an unexpected positional move, following Folau's controversial social media posts, and one with a somewhat uncertain timeline given Folau is fighting his contract being terminated at a Rugby Australia Code of Conduct hearing on Saturday week.

Beale has unique insight into Folau's situation, having escaped being sacked at a Code of Conduct hearing in 2014 over the Di Patston messages affair.

"There's obviously a bit of process going on now. Obviously it goes through the code of conduct (hearing)," Beale said.

"I guess as a mate you just worry about his head space and you hope that he's okay there and our full focus shifts now to the game on the weekend for us as a team.

"As a squad, we did that last week and it's important that we continue that and keep building on the progress that we had last week."

Beale was a key figure in NSW grinding out a come-from-behind win over the Rebels, positioning the Tahs well with his catch-and-kick game, and counter-attack too.

"I'm just really enjoying the challenge at the back. Obviously it's a  position that we need to fill in at the moment and I thought last week the whole backline adapted really well to that," Beale said.

"Obviously there's a little bit more space there for myself to be out there roaming around and popping up inside and outside the playmakers.

"And it's obviously as job that I need to do and I'm just relishing it at the moment."

Playing at fullback is not foreign to Beale; indeed it the position in which he started most in his 83 Test career. Of 58 starts, Beale has played 31 times at fullback, compared to centre (15) and fly-half (12).

Beale claimed the John Eales Medal in 2011 after a year playing at fullback, and many believe it is his best position given it allows him to roam more, and not be tied down by front-line responsibilities at centre.

"I mean, (playing) 12 there is a bit of responsibility there but I think every player has got a certain role and responsibility within the shape of how we like to play the game," Beale said.

"So I guess fullback just allows you to have that little bit more space out wide on the edges, and a little bit more freedom to be able to exploit some of the weaknesses in the opposition.

"I feel like I've got the same approach in any position that I have to step up in but there's obviously a certain role at the back that requires a lot more, I guess, a different approach: more running, covering kicks, retrieving kicks and obviously having a bigger kicking game than usual.

"So that's a great challenge for myself."

Given Folau's likely absence, Beale was asked if he'd be keen to take on the fullback role for the Wallabies too.

"Obviously it's something I'll definitely look at," Beale said.

"If you look at world rugby these days, a lot of teams are going with big ball-carrying centres and althoiugh I'd like to look as myself as a big ball-carrying centre, I don't think I've got that kind of leverage in myself.

"But in saying that, it may open the opportunity to pop up at fullback again (for the Wallabies) and if that does (happen), I'll be working really hard to push myself to be able to put my hand up in this arena."

The Waratahs host the Sharks at BankWest Stadium at Parramatta on Saturday night, kick off at 7.45pm. Live on FoxSports and Radio.

West Harbour and the Western Sydney Two Blues will play in the curtain raiser from 5.15pm.