Izzy Good Enough?

 

How do you judge a player like Israel Folau? How do you weigh up his role in a fledging team when there are very few players you can directly compare him to? The rugby league convert, who is under more scrutiny than any other first year AFL debutant in history, is not a fully-fledged forward, he is not a stay at home defender, and he is rotated through the ruck on a part-time basis.

His coach, one of the AFL’s most distinguished, in Kevin Sheedy, believes that he could be compared to Mike Pyke, a former Canadian National Rugby Union representative who made the switch to AFL, and debuted for the Sydney Swans in 2009. Others have compared him to West Coasts number two draft pick in the 2008 draft, Nic Naitanui.

Naitanui himself has called on Folau, who he bonded with during the Youth AFL Oceania Cup in Fiji earlier this year, to continue with AFL, saying “I think Izzy’s probably ahead of me at this stage in terms of my first couple of games” earlier in the year.

Unfortunately for Israel, the patience seems to be wearing thin with some areas of the media. After a poor showing in Canberra against the Demons, the AFL’s James Dampney wrote an opinion piece calling for Israel to “have a serious think about his professional footballing future”. His voice was not alone, and simply asked the question; does Israel want to play AFL?

The heat of this issue stems back to Folau’s comments regarding his move to AFL, when he explained that for the long term benefit of his family, the money offered by the Giants played a role in the code switch, admitting “I think I probably would have just stayed playing rugby league” had it been solely up to him.

Since switching to the Giants, Folau has only experienced the one win, having missed the win over Port Adelaide in Round 19. Prior to his switch to AFL, Israel was accustomed to winning and glory. In 2007, Folau debuted with the Melbourne Storm, where he broke the Storms all time try-scoring record.

Israel was involved in consecutive premierships for the Storm, which was retrospectively stripped for salary breaches. He went on to win the Dally M Rookie of the Year, won the inaugural Fairfax Young Performer of the Year Award and was named in the Rugby League World XIII. His first season in both codes could not be further apart.

The weight of expectation on Folau as a first year player has not been seen in AFL circles before. Last season Izzy went quietly about his business, learning the trade in the NEAFL conference, where he collected 31 goals across the season, after a successful switch from defence to the forward line. He has not been able to replicate that form in the big time this year, and it has many calling for blood.

Cam Mooney recently said on SEN radio that “looking at it now, maybe Israel’s not meant for our game”. Mooney had repeatedly defended Folau’s development, but like many, his support is wavering. The athleticism is there, but it’s his hunger and his effort to make a contest that is being questioned. Kevin Sheedy claims “that’s a part of footy you have to learn”.

On a few occasions this year, Israel has been cheered, often interpreted as ’in jest’, when he impacts a contest and gains possession of the football. The counter argument to that is the crowd enjoy watching Izzy play, and cheer for him not in Bronx, but in support, knowing the level of expectation he carries.

So how does one judge Israel Folau’s first season, and who does one compare him to? Well, since Cam Mooney was willing to draw attention to himself…

In 1999, Cameron Money played eleven games for North Melbourne on debut. In his first year Israel Folau has played twelve games for the GWS Giants. Mooney kicked two goals and three behinds in those games, Folau has kicked one goal and seven behinds. Mooney averaged 3.3 disposals per game, Falou has average 5.9.

Cameron Mooney took a total of 29 hit-outs and 14 marks in 1999, Folau has amassed 61 hit-outs and 20 marks this year.

Not only has Folau had a better debut season thus far than Mooney, who stands at an almost identical height and weight, but Folau has managed to do it in a team that has managed only two wins for the season, compared to the Cam playing for the Kangaroos who finished second on the ladder with 17 wins, and went on to defeat Carlton to win the 1999 premiership.

Statistically, Israel Folau’s debut season also surpasses that of potential 2012 Coleman Medallist, Drew Petrie. Folau has average more goals, disposals, hit-outs and marks this season than Petrie did in his nine games debut season or the Kangaroos in 2001. The two are also similar height and weight.

History shows that Mooney went on to win All-Australian Selection in 2007 and is a three time premiership player, also winning with Geelong in 2007 and 2009. Petrie won All-Australian Team selection last year, ten years after making his debut. Between the two, Petrie and Mooney have played over 400 games. Folau has played 12.

And as for Kevin Sheedy’s comparison with Mike Pyke? Well Israel matches, or is ahead of Pyke on goals, disposals and marks, only lagging behind on hit-outs when comparing their debut seasons.

Israel turned twenty-three in April. He is contracted to the Greater Western Sydney Giants football club until 2014. He will take time to develop, and he will take time to learn which role is best for him. As for the effort and attack on the ball, if he learns that, and should the desire be there, who knows the limits Israel could reach in the AFL? Only time will tell.

 

Debut Year Player Average Goals Per Game
2012 J.Cameron 1.8
2007 T.Hawkins 1.3
2008 K.Tippett 0.9
2005 T.Cloke 0.7
2000 J.Brown 0.4
2009 N.Natinui 0.4
2001 N.Riewoldt 0.3
1999 C.Mooney 0.2
2011 K.Hunt 0.1
2012 I.Falou 0.1
2001 D.Petrie 0.0
2009 M.Pyke 0.0

 

Debut Year Player Average Hit Outs Per Game
2009 N.Natinui 16.6
2009 M.Pyke 12.3
2008 K.Tippett 6.2
2012 I.Falou 5.1
2001 D.Petrie 4.2
1999 C.Mooney 2.6
2000 J.Brown 1.7
2005 T.Cloke 0.7
2001 N.Riewoldt 0.2
2012 J.Cameron 0.1
2007 T.Hawkins 0.0
2011 K.Hunt 0.0
Debut Year Player Average Disposals Per Game
2009 N.Natinui 11.7
2012 J.Cameron 10.0
2005 T.Cloke 9.9
2000 J.Brown 9.5
2001 N.Riewoldt 9.5
2007 T.Hawkins 8.6
2011 K.Hunt 8.3
2008 K.Tippett 7.1
2009 M.Pyke 5.9
2012 I.Falou 5.9
2001 D.Petrie 3.9
1999 C.Mooney 3.3
Debut Year Player Average Marks Per Game
2012 J.Cameron 5.0
2001 N.Riewoldt 4.3
2007 T.Hawkins 3.7
2000 J.Brown 3.6
2005 T.Cloke 3.5
2008 K.Tippett 2.3
2011 K.Hunt 1.8
2012 I.Falou 1.7
2009 N.Natinui 1.4
1999 C.Mooney 1.3
2001 D.Petrie 1.1
2009 M.Pyke 0.4

 

24 Comments

  • What are your thoughts on Israel Folau? Do you think your opinion of him would be different if he was on a rookie salary only, with no AFL marketing top-up? Let me know!

    • G’day Griff,

      I agree with what you have said and your article brings the perspective that is needed to this issue. I for one, think that Israel has the make-up and physical characteristics to play this game and play it well. I think that his development has been overshadowed by the achievements of Jeremy Cameron to a large extent. He looks to be an absolute freak talent and he may be the next big thing for GWS but he would be the next big thing at any club, he’s that good.

      I think what should be considered now is what exactly did people expect of Izzy’s first year at AFL level? What would the consensus have been at the start of the season if the average punter had been asked “What would make Israel Folau’s 2012 a success in your eyes?”

      More than 10 games? 10/20/30 goals?

      He may not be a Jonathon Brown and he may never be but neither is Mike Pyke and it has to be said that he has played an important role for the Swans this year without being prolific – this is the same Mike Pyke who was referred to by one commentator as “the worst player ever to play AFL” (yes, I have para-phrased this – couldn’t find the quote). Again, it seems as if the great Australian Tall Poppy Syndrome is at work, for mine.

      Looking back at his year, I think that 2012 has been a solid year for Folau. Solid; not spectacular but still a success. It is clear that he is still very much learning the game and trying to find a place within the GWS team but it is way too early to judge his entire career on what has been seen this season alone.

      Has he been worth the money? Who cares? The cash was never about his playing ability, it was a brilliant strategic move by the AFL and GWS – a real coup and one that slapped the NRL in the face. For this move to really pay off Izzy needs to stay in the AFL but for him to stay, he is going to need a lot more support and at least a little more time. I for one, hope that he stays and I hope that he makes a real go of it.

      What then would people see as a successful 2013 for Izzy?

  • izzy is a boss!

  • I was actually thinking about izzy this weekend and was wondering if he will continue to play AFL.
    I personally think he has enormous potential, but seems to be lacking the desire compete for the ball, especially when it hits the deck. This could be due him having very little confidence. If thats the case then I think he should play on.
    Honestly people around the club will be able to tell if he has the energy and desire to make the transition to an elite AFL player. If he does he has the physical attributes to become a seriously damaging player and a key part of GWS

  • I think the comparisons are a little flattering, particularly to Natinui who had already shown he would be a player to watch by this stage. Apart from that (one?) time he kicked a goal, Izzy would have a pretty lean highlights reel for this season.

    Given he is 23, it might be appropiate to compare him to mature-age rookies on debut – you would have expected him to have an edge on the younger bodies listed above.

  • But you cant really compare him to mature aged debutaunts because he obly leant the game several years ago, so really you should be comapring him just about to the Under 18’s or whatever I think

    • True. Not many guys come to AFL footy close to 22 years of age with no prior experience. Pyke might be the only one with similar circumstances.

      I suppose that there was an expectation that Izzy would at least be a great tackler given his rugby background, but not too much to show there either.

      Perhaps he needs to get off the Swisse multivitamins… they didn’t do much for Punter or Karmichael!

  • Goodes or Chappy??

  • Waste of Money….

  • Interesting article Griff !

    I think people are having far to high expectations on what he would be able to do in his first season. It’s a massive switch between two very different games.. I mean remember Karmichael Hunt last year, compared to this year as he starts to get the hang of AFL more. If Izzy hasn’t improved at all by the end of next season, or even through season 2014, then maybe people will start to have a point when they critisise him, but for now just let him take time to get the hang of the game a bit.

    He is also playing with a bunch of lads who have been playing AFL for 10-15 years, compared to Izzy’s 1 year, and are the best up-and-coming talent in the country. I mean honestly, a bit of slack for Izzy is certainly deserved.

    This said though, I do agree that it might be best to let him build some real confidence in the NEAFL (who I would guess are perhaps doing better than their senior side, so more oppurtunities for him to kick goals and take marks inside 50??), before he is released to play with the best players in the country who have been playing the game for as long as Izzy has been alive.

    Finally, think if an established AFL star, say Travis Cloke, or Jarryd Roughead, for example switched suddenly to start playing rugby, how do you reckon they’d do? Yeah, completely hopeless..

  • Karmicheal Hunt didn’t start performing to AFL standard until his second year, even the knockers must by now acknowledge that Hunt has improved significantly. Personally I too joked about Hunt in 2011, but in 2012 I have a totally different outlook, Kudo’s to Hunt, he’s making great strides this year.

    With Izzy I now have the same outlook, cut the guy some slack, let’s see how he goes in 2013.

  • I agree with basically everything you wrote about Griff. Everyone expected him to be a superstar coming into his first AFL level season which is unfair. The major reason behind this is the fact he is earning such a huge amount of money in comparison to a normal first year player is what has raised people’s expectations of him exponentially. We all know the major motivation to bring him over was the commercial & marketing benefits it brought to the AFL in that region, but he obviously has incredible athletic gifts and if he keeps working at it and wants to enough he will improve drastically and could potentially become a good to great player. Just my thoughts on this topic.

    • I don’t think anybody thought he would be a ‘superstar’. I do think that everybody thought he’d at least be semi competitive, which he isn’t.

      There are thousands with ‘incredible athletic gifts’ that wouldn’t make it in the AFL, and he is one of them. If you could get $1.04 about Izzy being back in the NRL in 2014, take it, it’d be overs.

  • I have heard on the grape vine that the eagles are looking at him for 2014 as a key defender, nik nat is pushing the idea to woosha consistantly and a few in the nest are agreeing with it!!!

  • Quality article Griff. I forgot I was reading DT Talk for a minute there and thought I was reading something written by a bonafide journalist (although it probably far surpasses the horseshit that most journo’s try to pass off as writing these days).

    You definitely make some fair points about Izzy as well. Having said that, if he is only playing for the money and his heart is really still with rugby then he will probably never reach the lofty heights of most of those players you have compared him with. I think a bit of passion for the game will be essential.

    It’s obvious that his bigger size and strength that allows him to perform at elite level in rugby (where he also obviously has a head for the game) is not enough in itself to allow him to just step into AFL and mix it with the best.

    I’d say he needs to be judged on his attitude as much as anything at the moment and if it is decided that he is just going through the motions then they should obviously fuck him off.

    • Agree regarding the attitude. I think a lot of it is also the change in coming from the top, to the very bottom. I don’t think anyone would envy that fall from grace to be smashed on the scoreboard every week when you are putting in your best efforts. The end of year should give him time to settle and think about if he is willing to fight through it. If he does, and the GWS team stick together, they’ll be near unstoppable in five-six years time. And let’s face it, I don’t think many defenders would be comfortable if Big Iz got up and running at full flight.

  • I think Nic Nat debuted in 09

    • That is correct. I’ve fixed this on the above charts, as it was a copy/paste error on my part from the original in Word format. Thank’s for pointing it out.

  • So did Sheedy read this article when making comments on Mooney?

    • Possibly an abridged version? I’m not 100% sure on how he got it. I did send a copy to a media contacts within GWS headquarters. How he ended up with the statistics is anyone’s guess. I’m just glad he did. The Izzy bashing is getting really old, especially after Hunt last year.

  • One of the things that the above statistics show, which I haven’t touched on, is how good Cameron is going in his debut year. I think his explosion on to the AFL scene has hurt Israel as people draw comparisons to ‘if Cameron can do that, why can’t Izzy’. Cameron is a freak, and if he keeps going he will be one hell of a forward in five to six years!

    • Good point about Cameron, imagine if Patton lives up to his no.1 draft billing and is every bit as good as Cameron…scary thought, especially with the likes of Treloar, Coniglio, Shiel, Smith & Greene feeding it to them. Throw in Izzy as the third tall (by then hitting his straps as an AFL player) could be too much fo teams to handle? GWS flag in 2014 Griff? :P

      • 2016 more likely. Finals in 2014 a possibility – IF we can find another key defender.
        Giles and Phillips will be amazing in the ruck too, but need someone to help Giles until 2016.