Israel Folau could be a candidate for the Super League Man of Steel this year, according to Hull coach Lee Radford, whose side will provide the first opposition for the dual-code international on English soil.
The 30-year-old former Wallaby made a tryscoring Super League debut for Catalans Dragons in their 36-18 win over Castleford in Perpignan a fortnight ago and promises to be the centre of attention at the KCOM Stadium on Sunday.
“He’s an absolute talent, he could be Man of Steel,” said Radford at his weekly press conference.
“He’s multi-talented, at league, union, AFL, you can tell he’s played AFL by how he jumps, he jumps like Michael Jordan.”
Radford has identified Folau’s ability under the high ball in attacking positions as his greatest threat and is relishing his duel with the in-form Josh Griffin.
“I can’t wait,” Radford said. “He’s a brilliant player. I’m really looking forward to seeing Griff go up against him because Griff is in a bit of form as well at the minute.
“He looks right at it in terms of performances so it’s a ding-donger and I know Griff is looking forward to it as well.
“Folau is a real aerial threat. The only way to stop that is to try and make them kick out their own end and obviously that’s something we’ve got to do very well on Sunday.”
Catalans’ signing of Folau drew widespread criticism after the player claimed on social media that “hell awaits” gay people and some Castleford fans displayed rainbow flags at the game in Perpignan to demonstrate their support of LGBT issues.
The Dragons responded to complaints by insisting the only flag requested to be removed during the game was one obstructing an advertising hoarding but they have been asked by the Rugby Football League after it carried out its own investigation to put provisions in place to avoid any confusion in the future.
The Israel Folau controversy split the Wallabies' World Cup camp and even led to a player boycotting a pre-tournament camp, according to court documents.https://t.co/G9Z9K3Pqzu
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 26, 2020
An RFL spokesman said: “Whilst no formal disciplinary action is being taken against the club, the Dragons have been issued with an advisory notice regarding improved provisions to prevent any future confusion around policies relating to any flags at the stadium both with spectators and all staff who are employed by the stadium.
“This should include clear messaging to stewards regarding the club’s policy on flags and the club’s and Rugby League’s commitment to inclusivity – including the Enjoy the Game campaign – and the right for spectators to respectfully promote this inclusion.”
Hull say a rainbow flag continues to fly outside the KCOM Stadium and Radford expects Folau to be booed but only in the way that most away players are barracked.
“He’ll probably get booed when he gets the football, booed when he scores and cheered when he misses a tackle,” he said.
Renewed call for fair play regarding the fixture's profits https://t.co/fVcWu8wN3t
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 29, 2020
“He’ll get the same moans and groans as anybody playing for Hull KR would get I reckon.”
A Hull spokesman added: “We are aware of the growing interest in our upcoming fixture against Catalans Dragons and the inclusion of their new signing Israel Folau.
“The divisive views on this matter have been well documented and our opinion has been heard by Super League, the Rugby Football League and Catalans Dragons.
“In the build-up to Sunday’s game, we do not feel this is the appropriate time for further discussion and our club remains solely focused on our preparation for the match, on and off the field.
“We are committed to delivering an enjoyable match day experience that is open and inclusive to all, as it always has been.
“Rugby league has and will continue to be a forward-thinking sport that embraces people from all communities and it is important that everyone associated with our sport, including players, staff, supporters and sponsors feel valued, respected and part of our family.
“Our LGBTQ+ ‘Rainbow’ flag continues to fly outside the KCOM Stadium as it has since last season, alongside our club crest.”
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