The cross-code battle for one of Australia’s finest athletes, Israel Folau, is back in the spotlight after the NSW Waratahs and Wallabies superstar was snapped meeting with NRL Head of Football Todd Greenberg. The rumour mill has gone into overdrive once again at the end of a week during which the code-switching prospects of Kurtley Beale and Karmichael Hunt were heavily speculated upon.
Folau was photographed in a cafe at Allianz Stadium with his manager Isaac Moses and Greenberg, but the NRL has hosed down any talk of an impending return to 13-a-side football.
“Mr Greenberg ran into Israel Folau, who he knows well, while heading to the coffee shop and they had an unplanned catch up,” a spokesman said.
“It was not a business discussion.”
Folau has been linked with a return to the NRL via the Canterbury Bulldogs virtually since his shock decision to join the Waratahs after leaving the AFL at the end of 2012. But he is now undoubtedly the No.1 player in Australian Rugby Union, and certainly the most marketable. Folau is the spearhead of the table-topping Waratahs and the emerging Wallabies Test side – it would seem a crazy move to consider leaving.
Given his rough treatment from some sections of the League and AFL media – compared to his rapport with the adoring Union press – few could blame him from wanting to continue to ride the 15-a-side gravy train for the foreseeable future.
Folau’s Waratahs teammate Beale is, however, considered a strong chance to switch to Rugby League with the Bulldogs. A brilliant attacking player with a chequered history off the paddock, Beale is in fine form, but is being blocked from playing in his preferred fullback and flyhalf spots at Super Rugby and Test level by Folau and Bernard Foley.
The 25-year-old Beale has a strong League background and appears to be an ideal candidate to make a successful transition. The Bulldogs have reportedly earmarked him to take over the fullback spot vacated by Ben Barba – seasoned wingers Sam Perrett and Mitch Brown have filled in with distinction so far in 2014 – but Beale’s versatility would make him a valuable acquisition for any club.
Meanwhile, it is becoming increasingly likely Karmichael Hunt will spurn an NRL return and join the Queensland Reds at the end of the year. Initially viewed as a genuine success story after embarking on an ambitious switch to the AFL, Hunt has played just one game for the rising Gold Coast Suns in his fourth season.
The Gold Coast Titans have apparently chased Hunt hard – and he would have given the ailing club desperately-needed marquee quality in the backline. Hunt is also an all-time Broncos great, but their bizarre recruitment policy has already guaranteed three of the codes best No.1s – Barba, Josh Hoffman and Anthony Milford – will be in their squad next year, one of whom will play at five-eighth, Hunt’s other possible position if he was to come back to Rugby League.
Hunt excelled in Union at schoolboy level, while he enjoyed a handy stint with French club Biarritz at the end of 2009 before linking with the Suns. He shapes as an immediate star for the Reds, although he would have his hands full dislodging former club, Origin and Test teammate Folau from the Wallabies’ No.15 jumper.
So it would seem there will be no gratifying return of two prodigal sons for the NRL, with Rugby Union set to gleefully reap the rewards of Hunt’s and Folau’s ubiquitous talents for the time being – but one of Union’s finest may very well be seen on the League side of the fence in the near future.
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