Brad Thorn is dreaming of Folau leaping once again for high balls on the Suncorp Stadium turf, bringing him to the Reds in a return to Brisbane where he played rugby league for the Broncos nearly a decade ago.
“I guess it’s one of those things where you have those dreams at night and some people see sheep jumping, I see Izzy in a Queensland jersey,” Thorn told rugby.com.au earlier this week.
“If we heard he was interested in coming here that would be exciting and can you imagine those (cross-field kicks)?” he suggested.
Israel Folau has remained coy on the matter also, remaining non-committal about his future ahead of the Waratahs home playoff match against the Highlanders.
Could a move north really be in the works, and would it be in his best interests? Here’s why he should think twice before joining Australia’s worst professional rugby team.
The Reds have been a disaster this decade with huge churn across the coaching staff and the playing roster since winning the title in 2011. They finished this year with a six-win season, showing they still have a way to go before they become a legitimate contender in the Australian conference under Thorn.
Leaving the conference-winning Waratahs to join the Reds would significantly hurt Folau’s chances of playing for another Super Rugby title. The Waratahs have just claimed back the mantle of Australia’s top team from the Brumbies and have by far the best roster in the country for the foreseeable future.
With the Brumbies undergoing a regeneration process and the Rebels set to lose a few key pieces next year, the Waratahs will likely be the number one team for the next few years. With a distorted conference system, securing home ground advantage gives the Waratahs a high likelihood of at least making the semi-finals but substantially improves the odds of making a final as well. The Waratahs could well be playing in Christchurch for the Super Rugby title this year due to a favourable playoff run.
Aside from the chances of winning more championships, the question isn’t whether Folau would make the Reds better, which is obviously yes, but whether the Reds will make Folau better – which is a no.
Thorn hasn’t yet settled on a halves pairing, and there is no definitive playmaker to structure the attack around following the exile of Quade Cooper. The game plan at the Reds became more and more conservative as the season went on, with little-to-no innovation from set-piece play.
The under-utilisation of set-piece plays would limit Folau’s effectiveness over the season, frustrating him with the lack of quality ball in space. Without a proven playmaker, the times he is given the ball will rely on him creating for himself. A large percentage of the current midfield set plays currently revolve around Samu Kerevi crash balls to reset pattern, to which again Folau would find little involvement in.
Thorn’s current assistant coach Paul Carozza is reportedly responsible for handling the Reds backs. With over 15 years of experience nurturing Queensland’s youth pathways, he is light on experience with top-level backs coaching. How he can improve Folau’s game remains to be seen, with little progress shown with the Reds backline this year.
If Thorn is really interested in implementing an aerial attack with cross-field kicking, he should start by finding a 10 with the necessary kicking skills to execute it. Young flyhalf Hamish Stewart was shielded from handling much of the kicking duties this year, averaging just 4.5 kicks per game, the third lowest of any flyhalf in Super Rugby.
If he stands to play a bigger role next season, there will be some growing pains as he continues to find his feet. To answer Thorn’s question, the only thing I can imagine at this stage is the ball flying out on the full on a regular basis.
The only possible draw for Folau is the potential to regularly play fullback again. His wife has expressed dissatisfaction with his selection on the wing at the Waratahs. Given that he is the current Wallaby fullback, it makes sense that he would want to play there.
The Reds used four players there this year – Jono Lance, Hamish Stewart, Aidan Toua and Jayden Ngamanu. With Lance and Toua likely to move on, the door will be wide open for Folau. The problem is, without the proper supporting cast and strategy, fullback at the Reds is almost a redundant position.
Just look at Karmichael Hunt’s transition that was an underwhelming failure, in part due to the lack of opportunities he had on the end of a Reds backline that could not create space. Despite multiple coaching changes, the Reds have veered back towards a similar playing style that failed them then and will fail them now.
Destination Brisbane shouldn’t be high on the priority list for Folau if this is a rugby decision. A move to the Queensland Reds would be a categorical career-killer for one of Australia’s best rugby talents.
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