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Rugby league international Israel Folau has completed a high-profile code switch to play rugby union for the HSBC Waratahs next season.
A highly rated and exceptionally talented rugby league player, the 23-year-old played 90 games for the Melbourne Storm (including two Grand Finals) and Brisbane Broncos from 2007-10 before announcing his switch to join the AFL in June 2010. After two years, Folau left the Greater Western Sydney Giants at the start of last month and today joins the NSW Waratahs on a one year contract.
Said Waratahs Rugby CEO Jason Allen, “Winning Israel over to rugby union is a major boost for the HSBC Waratahs and an exciting prospect for Super Rugby fans across Australia.
“As a player, Israel clearly has an exceptional talent but what was equally important to us was the enormous level of respect he commands from those who know him and have worked with him.
“We are thrilled that he has chosen to represent the Waratahs and really excited for our members and fans as we welcome him to our team and look forward to an exciting new chapter in NSW rugby history.”
VIDEO: Isael Folau talks to Fox Sports News after today's announcement.
Having met his new team mates this morning, Israel says he can’t wait to get stuck into his first training session later today. “I’m really excited by this opportunity and looking forward to having a crack at union.
“When I first met Michael (Cheika) I liked his personality as a person and a coach. We talked about what he wants to do with the team, the style of rugby he wants to play and the quality of the squad that he has, with all the Wallabies guys. That’s what got me interested,” said Folau, who first played rugby union at school.
“There were a number of factors in my decision to join the NSW Waratahs. I left GWS because I didn’t have the passion for the game but because of the timings, I didn’t know if I’d get anything. I said right from the start that I was keeping my options open because I knew it would be hard for rugby league to accommodate me.
“I’m excited to be staying in Sydney and absolutely very happy with the way things have worked out.”
Since taking over in October, new Head Coach Michael Cheika has been looking at his options for the last remaining place in the HSBC Waratahs’ 30-man Super Rugby roster.
“Since I started, we’ve been discussing the option of a marquee player who could really add something to our squad and the strength we already have to develop from within NSW.
“When the opportunity came up with Israel, who’s a local, and what he could bring in this short space of time, our needs met.
“He is the perfect fit for us. He’s a quality person. In the three or four times we’ve discussed rugby, he’s shown me that his character is A1 and he’ll fit exactly into the values we have here.
“I really liked the fact that he’s a family guy and someone that just wants to do the best for those close to him.”
As well as his character, Cheika is confident that Israel has the necessary skills to become a valuable asset to the team’s on field identity and says he sees him playing anywhere in the back three. “Israel has a brilliant capability to beat a man one-on-one and great aerial skills that are very important these days.
“He’s got a natural ability to read the game and assess attacking opportunities. There’s a bit of learning to do around the ruck area but at 23 he’s still very open to learning and we’ve already started that journey. We’ve talked about strategy and positional play and he’s shown me that he’s already picking things up.”
Australian Rugby Union Acting CEO Matt Carroll said Folau’s presence in the NSW Waratahs squad in 2013 would provide an exciting addition to the Super Rugby landscape.
“ARU has supported the Waratahs in their recruitment of a player whose profile and natural athleticism has the potential to deliver a further X-factor to the Waratahs next year,” he said.
“Depending on his development as a rugby player, there is an opportunity for Folau to achieve higher honours, in Sevens as well as the 15-a-side game.
“Sevens is now an Olympic sport and we are keen to build depth and profile in the lead-up to Rio in 2016,” finished Carroll.
Born in Sydney and brought up in the city’s south west, the 23-year-old comes to union with an incredible record of sporting achievement. Having broken the NRL’s record for most tries in a debut year in his inaugural season with the Melbourne Storm in 2007/8, he is a former winner of Dally M awards for both Rookie and Centre of the Year. In 2007 he became the youngest international rugby league player to represent Australia (18 years and 194 days) and went on to earn eight caps for the Kangaroos, including playing in the 2008 Rugby League World Cup.
Despite representing Queensland in eight State of Origin matches between 2008 and 2010, he was born in Sydney and brought up in the south west suburb of Minto, near Campbelltown, attending Sarah Redfern Public School and Westfields Sports High School in Fairfield West before his family moved to Brisbane in 2004.
Folau’s signing completes the HSBC Waratahs squad for what is already shaping up to be an exciting season of Super Rugby action and an historic year for rugby in NSW, with the arrival of the British & Irish Lions in June. An HSBC Waratahs membership is the only way to guarantee your seat for all the action and secure a host of members-only benefits including free entry to the Super Rugby trial match against the Crusaders at Allianz Stadium on February 14, which could be fans’ first chance to see Israel in action, priority access to The Lions Tour match against the HSBC Waratahs on June 15, 2013 and great value match tickets and invitations to exclusive member-only events. Two game adult memberships start at just $38, with eight-game full season family packages available from just $325 (two adults and two children). To become a 2013 member call the membership hotline on 1300 733 899 (9am – 5pm, Monday – Friday) or buy online at www.waratahs.com.au/membership.
Born: 3/4/89, Sydney
Playing career: Played 90 rugby league games for Melbourne Storm (including winning the 2007 Grand Final) and Brisbane Broncos from 2007-10; broke the NRL’s record for most tries in a debut year in inaugural season with the Melbourne Storm in 2007/8; earned Dally M Rookie of the Year and Centre of the Year awards; all-time youngest international rugby league player ever to represent Australia (18 years and 194 days); played eight Test matches for the Australian Kangaroos squad between 2007 and 2009, including the 2008 Rugby League World Cup.
Full profiles on all HSBC Waratahs players, including Israel Folau, are available from the squad section of the Waratahs Rugby website.
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