Izzy Good Enough?
In a special one off opinion piece, Griff analyses the twelve game career thus far of Israel Folau, as many are calling for his to return to the NRL. Is this scrutiny fair? How do you judge a first year player? What are your thoughts on the Giant code-swapper?
How do you judge a player like Israel Folau? How do you weigh up his role in a fledging team when there are very few players you can directly compare him to? The rugby league convert, who is under more scrutiny than any other first year AFL debutant in history, is not a fully-fledged forward, he is not a stay at home defender, and he is rotated through the ruck on a part-time basis.
His coach, one of the AFL’s most distinguished, in Kevin Sheedy, believes that he could be compared to Mike Pyke, a former Canadian National Rugby Union representative who made the switch to AFL, and debuted for the Sydney Swans in 2009. Others have compared him to West Coasts number two draft pick in the 2008 draft, Nic Naitanui.
Naitanui himself has called on Folau, who he bonded with during the Youth AFL Oceania Cup in Fiji earlier this year, to continue with AFL, saying “I think Izzy’s probably ahead of me at this stage in terms of my first couple of games” earlier in the year.
Unfortunately for Israel, the patience seems to be wearing thin with some areas of the media. After a poor showing in Canberra against the Demons, the AFL’s James Dampney wrote an opinion piece calling for Israel to “have a serious think about his professional footballing future”. His voice was not alone, and simply asked the question; does Israel want to play AFL?
The heat of this issue stems back to Folau’s comments regarding his move to AFL, when he explained that for the long term benefit of his family, the money offered by the Giants played a role in the code switch, admitting “I think I probably would have just stayed playing rugby league” had it been solely up to him.
Since switching to the Giants, Folau has only experienced the one win, having missed the win over Port Adelaide in Round 19. Prior to his switch to AFL, Israel was accustomed to winning and glory. In 2007, Folau debuted with the Melbourne Storm, where he broke the Storms all time try-scoring record.
Israel was involved in consecutive premierships for the Storm, which was retrospectively stripped for salary breaches. He went on to win the Dally M Rookie of the Year, won the inaugural Fairfax Young Performer of the Year Award and was named in the Rugby League World XIII. His first season in both codes could not be further apart.
The weight of expectation on Folau as a first year player has not been seen in AFL circles before. Last season Izzy went quietly about his business, learning the trade in the NEAFL conference, where he collected 31 goals across the season, after a successful switch from defence to the forward line. He has not been able to replicate that form in the big time this year, and it has many calling for blood.
Cam Mooney recently said on SEN radio that “looking at it now, maybe Israel’s not meant for our game”. Mooney had repeatedly defended Folau’s development, but like many, his support is wavering. The athleticism is there, but it’s his hunger and his effort to make a contest that is being questioned. Kevin Sheedy claims “that’s a part of footy you have to learn”.
On a few occasions this year, Israel has been cheered, often interpreted as ’in jest’, when he impacts a contest and gains possession of the football. The counter argument to that is the crowd enjoy watching Izzy play, and cheer for him not in Bronx, but in support, knowing the level of expectation he carries.
So how does one judge Israel Folau’s first season, and who does one compare him to? Well, since Cam Mooney was willing to draw attention to himself…
In 1999, Cameron Money played eleven games for North Melbourne on debut. In his first year Israel Folau has played twelve games for the GWS Giants. Mooney kicked two goals and three behinds in those games, Folau has kicked one goal and seven behinds. Mooney averaged 3.3 disposals per game, Falou has average 5.9.
Cameron Mooney took a total of 29 hit-outs and 14 marks in 1999, Folau has amassed 61 hit-outs and 20 marks this year.
Not only has Folau had a better debut season thus far than Mooney, who stands at an almost identical height and weight, but Folau has managed to do it in a team that has managed only two wins for the season, compared to the Cam playing for the Kangaroos who finished second on the ladder with 17 wins, and went on to defeat Carlton to win the 1999 premiership.
Statistically, Israel Folau’s debut season also surpasses that of potential 2012 Coleman Medallist, Drew Petrie. Folau has average more goals, disposals, hit-outs and marks this season than Petrie did in his nine games debut season or the Kangaroos in 2001. The two are also similar height and weight.
History shows that Mooney went on to win All-Australian Selection in 2007 and is a three time premiership player, also winning with Geelong in 2007 and 2009. Petrie won All-Australian Team selection last year, ten years after making his debut. Between the two, Petrie and Mooney have played over 400 games. Folau has played 12.
And as for Kevin Sheedy’s comparison with Mike Pyke? Well Israel matches, or is ahead of Pyke on goals, disposals and marks, only lagging behind on hit-outs when comparing their debut seasons.
Israel turned twenty-three in April. He is contracted to the Greater Western Sydney Giants football club until 2014. He will take time to develop, and he will take time to learn which role is best for him. As for the effort and attack on the ball, if he learns that, and should the desire be there, who knows the limits Israel could reach in the AFL? Only time will tell.
|Debut Year||Player||Average Goals Per Game|
|Debut Year||Player||Average Hit Outs Per Game|
|Debut Year||Player||Average Disposals Per Game|
|Debut Year||Player||Average Marks Per Game|