The greatest full-backs of all time: Israel Folau
Israel Folau has accomplished much in the Australian jersey in a short period of time, and is fast becoming one of the full-back greats
Major teams: Broncos, Waratahs
Test span: 2013 –
Australia caps: 41 (41 starts)
Test points: 100 (20T)
– Figures correct as of 19/07/2016 –
He arrived in rugby union accompanied by astronomical expectations, having already achieved superstardom in one sport at the tender age of 23.
A haul of 73 tries in 91 NRL matches for Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos, as well as another six for Australia and five in the maroon of Queensland, galvanised his reputation as a rugby league phenomenon.
Rangy, rapid and deceptively strong in the contact area with sublime offloading skills, Folau’s move to the Waratahs in 2013 – via a season in Aussie Rules with the Greater Western Sydney giants – cause a significant stir in both codes. The hype was justified. Super 15 defences found it difficult to shackle Folau and Robbie Deans handed him a Wallaby debut in the first Test against the Lions, citing his ability to learn fast and to “embrace a challenge”.
Although Australia lost 23-21 on their way to a 2-1 series defeat, their high-profile newbie ran in a couple of stunning tries from the wing. Scrum-half Will Genia, who sparked the first after 13 minutes, articulated it best afterwards when calling him “an absolute freak”.
Folau’s explosive athleticism has allowed him to change the face of ariel kicking tactics, legendary AFL coach Kevin Sheedy saying: “His jump is unbelievable and his hands are imprints of the Grand Canyon.”
The pedantry instincts have remained in his new code. There was a hat-trick in Rosario as Argentina were dispatched 54-17 and braces in victories over France and Wales in 2014, either side of the Waratahs’ maiden Super Rugby title. Folau made 126 running metres in the final as a last-play penalty from Bernard Foley beat the Crusaders 33-32.
Now settled at full-back, Folau was a stand-out performer in Australia’s 3-0 defeat to England in June, and he’ll need to continue his fine form if the Wallabies are to challenge New Zealand in the Rugby Championship this year.