If this truly is the end of Israel Folau’s football career in Australia, the dual international’s car crash-style exit will have been as swift and spectacular as his rise was meteoric.
Few could have imagined the extraordinary career Folau would enjoy when he made his NRL debut as a teenager at the Melbourne Storm in 2007.
In little more than a decade, the precocious talent set endless records and achieved unparalleled honours while becoming the first player to compete in the NRL, AFL and Super Rugby competitions.
From the moment he bagged Melbourne’s match-winning try on his NRL debut – as the Storm’s youngest-ever player – Folau was a sensation in rugby league.
He finished the 2007 season as a grand final winner, Dally M rookie of the year and the competition’s equal top try-scorer.
That was just the start.
Folau then rounded out 2007 by collecting another double while, at 18 years and 194 days, deposing Brad Fittler as the youngest player to represent Australia in a Test match in a 58-0 rout of New Zealand.
In 2008, Folau, typically, scored on his Queensland debut before notching another double and being named man of the match in the Maroons’ series-deciding win over NSW.
In 2009, the try-scoring freak scored on debut for Brisbane, then stole the show by soaring above his ex-Melbourne teammates to claim a decisive four-pointer in a thrilling Broncos win over the Storm.
There was simply no stopping him.
By the time he’d left the NRL after four incredible seasons, Folau had played in two grand finals, two State of Origin series wins, eight Tests for Australia and set several try-scoring benchmarks.
And he was still only 21 years old.
His two fleeting seasons in the AFL were hardly as successful, with Folau kicking two goals in 13 appearances for expansion club Greater Western Sydney.
But the trailblazing code-hopper still departed several million dollars richer.
Shrewdly sec ured by then-NSW Waratahs coach Michael Cheika, Folau continued his record-setting exploits in rugby.
In 2014, the Minto-born marvel became the first player to top the try-scoring charts in both an NRL and Super Rugby season while helping pilot the Waratahs to a drought-breaking maiden premiership.
He topped the list again in 2016 before last Saturday becoming Super Rugby’s all-time leading try-scorer, surpassing All Blacks great Doug Howlett with his 60th five-pointer for the Tahs.
Folau also had the distinction of playing against the touring British and Irish Lions in his first year in the 15-man game before winning a Rugby Championship and making a World Cup final with the Wallabies in 2015.
During a decorated 73-Test career for the Wallabies, Folau also became the first three-times John Eales Medallist (2014, 2015, 2017) as Australian rugby’s player of the year.
With 37 five-pointers, Folau is Australia’s equal-third-highest trys-corer of all time b ehind only the legendary David Campese (64) and Chris Latham (40) and alongside Adam Ashley-Cooper, having marked his entry to international rugby with a record-equalling 10 in 2013.
Sadly, though, there will be no more after Folau had his four-year, $4 million contract terminated by Rugby Australia on Friday.
Booted out for expressing his deeply religious and offensive views on social media, Folau’s only options appear a move overseas,
And if that is not forthcoming, a higher calling might be Folau’s ultimate play as as a preacher for his church.
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