Sebastian Hassett July 13, 2012
Greater Western Sydney's Israel Folau, Jonathon Patton and Jeremy Cameron. Photo: Ben Rushton
Israel Folau has rejected claims he'll be switching codes back to rugby league at the end of this season and has insisted he'll be playing in the AFL next year with the GWS Giants.
At that point, however, it remains unknown whether Folau will extend his stay in the indigenous game, with many believing he will return to rugby league, the code he last played in 2010.
Folau is contracted to the Giants until the end of the 2013 season and earns an estimated $1 million per season, more than double what he was earning in the NRL at the height of his career with the Brisbane Broncos.
However, as Folau has struggled to make the transition to AFL - battling to make an impact in seven of a possible 14 games - questions have begun to surface about whether he has a long-term future in his new sport.
But the former Queensland State of Origin star was quick to cut down suggestions he would be returning to his original code at next year.
''No, not at all. I'm definitely going to be at the Giants, that's for sure,'' he said when asked at a promotional event for the AFL's under-16 championships in North Sydney yesterday.
''It's just rumours, whoever's spreading that [returning to league], it's definitely not true. I'm just worried about my job here at the Giants and trying to move forward.
''I'm signed with the Giants for the next two years and that's all I'm worried about.''
Folau denied he had been contacted by any rugby league clubs - ''not to my knowledge, anyway''- and said he wasn't thinking about a switch back.
However, when asked if he thought AFL was the best code, he cryptically replied: ''At the moment it is.''
While the Giants' batch of youngsters have struggled to adapt to life in the AFL this season, the club has uncovered arguably the league's most powerful forward pairing for the next decade in the form of Jonathon Patton and Jeremy Cameron.
That in itself presents problems for Folau and finding him a position. He is confident, however, he can work alongside the exciting duo, starting with Sunday's match against Adelaide at Skoda Stadium.
''I definitely feel I can be in there somewhere, but that's totally up to me and how hard I work,'' he said.
''This is a great opportunity to play alongside them this Sunday for the first time and I have just got to build from here on in.''
Folau hasn't played since round eight, a 92-point loss against Brisbane, but has been named to play after recovering from a hamstring injury and spending the past few weeks finding his form in the reserves.
Giants coach Kevin Sheedy said there was no need to rush Folau's recovery, saying he didn't want his forward to suffer the same fate as Hawthorn's Lance Franklin, who will miss the next three weeks.
Sheedy also avidly defended Folau's development, declaring him to have had a bigger impact than Patton and that he was still learning the game, adding he had played less than 14 hours of senior AFL football.
''This young fella has played seven games of AFL and this guy goes through purgatory,'' Sheedy said.
''A guy called [Mike] Pyke who plays in the ruck for Sydney actually comes from Canada and he said it took him four years to learn the game. In fairness to Izzy and anyone else who crosses codes, it does take a while to learn. The Swans have been very patient with him, but I can tell you now, Pyke doesn't get asked every week, 'Are you sick of AFL or want to go back to NRL'.''
The NRL charge to bring back Folau has been spearheaded by former player Matthew Johns, who last week urged him to ''come home, brother'' - but Folau wasn't having a bar of that.
''I've said this a few times before, everyone's entitled to their own opinions and whatever they want to say,'' he said.
''I definitely know it's not true, so it doesn't worry me at all. I'm just focusing on my footy.''
Bookies have already jumped on the opportunity to open a market on where Folau will play next year, with Luxbet listing him as a $1.33 chance to play with the Giants and a $5 chance to play with the Panthers, who have room in their salary cap to make a play given the impending departure of Luke Lewis.