Israel Folau’s ‘coffee’ with NRL boss brews up a storm Down Under

Concern mounts that Australian fullback will return to rugby league

Australia’s Israel Folau in action  during the clash against Ireland at the Aviva last November. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Australia’s Israel Folau in action during the clash against Ireland at the Aviva last November. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Thu, Jul 17, 2014, 18:35

A meeting over coffee between Israel Folau and Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) boss has caused a minor media storm Down Under amid speculation the dual international may return to the 13-man code.

The Wallabies fullback, one of Australian sport’s hottest properties, is contracted to rugby union until after the 2015 World Cup.

But a picture of Folau, his manager Isaac Moses and NRL’s head of football Todd Greenberg having a chat at a cafe at Sydney Football Stadium sent a shiver through Australia’s rugby union community.

The NRL has made no secret of its desire to lure Folau back to the game that made him a national celebrity, while the Australian Rugby Union has repeatedly voiced a determination to retain the 25-year-old, seen as a vital pillar in the code’s struggle for relevance in Australia’s crowded sports market.

Played down

The NRL played down the meeting as just a chance catch-up. “Mr Greenberg ran into Israel Folau, who he knows well, while heading to the coffee shop and they had an unplanned catch up,” a NRL spokesman said. “It was not a business discussion.”

Folau has repeatedly stated his intention to see out his ARU contract amid reports of interest from overseas, including big-money offers from powerful French side Toulon.

He responded to the media attention on Wednesday with humour on Twitter, saying he was set to meet Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott for a coffee, too.

“Having a coffee with @TonyAbbottMHR today. if anyone wants to take a photo. Thinking about going into politics next,” he tweeted.

Worries about a crippling player drain for Australian rugby came into sharp focus earlier this month with the announcement that Wallabies winger Nick Cummins had decided to quit Australia to play in Japan.

Overseas clubs

Folau’s Wallabies and Super Rugby team-mate Kurtley Beale is weighing up a switch to the NRL after being shut out of Ewen McKenzie’s starting side during the 3-0 series win over France last month.

ARU boss Bill Pulver played down the player drain, which has included former Wallabies captain Ben Mowen and lock Kane Douglas heading for overseas clubs.

“It is a fact of life that Japan and France have a lot of money to throw at players, but actually we’re quietly pleased with the support that we’ve had for our elite players playing in Australia,” said Pulver.

“Yes, we’ve lost a couple, but every year we’ve lost a couple or more, so we’re not unhappy with the outcome.

“Clearly there are a couple of players we would have liked to have kept from a strategic development perspective . . .”

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