Israel Folau to spearhead bid for Sydney heartland
February 3, 2014
ARU chief Bill Pulver wants Israel Folau to played with the proposed Greater Western Rams franchise © Getty Images
Australian rugby's biggest name, Israel Folau, is scheduled to head the drive to win back Sydney's West as the marquee player for Greater Sydney Rams in the National Rugby Championship (NRC).
ESPNscrum has learned that Australian Rugby Union (ARU) officials want to use Folau as a crowd puller in the planned NRC to be launched later this year as Australian Rugby's third tier, especially in those areas where the code needs a massive boost.
Folau hails from Sydney's Western Suburbs, an area that has nurtured rugby talent for decades but which has struggled for recognition due to the concerted recruitment drives by rugby league and AFL officials; over the years, countless potential rugby players from that area - Sydney's football heartland - have been lured away by the other codes, which are better resourced.
Five Sydney clubs - Parramatta, West Harbour, Penrith, Eastwood and Southern Districts - are understood to have joined forces to tender for one of the NRC franchises, the team to be called the Greater Sydney Rams; a logo and club colours have already been agreed.
Negotiations have begun to play TV games under lights at St Marys Stadium, with non-television matches hosted at Concord Oval - at one time the home of Australian rugby and the Wallabies - or at Eastwood's T.G Millner Field.
ESPNscrum has learned that ARU officials have indicated to Greater Sydney Rams organisers that they want Folau to be the marquee signing. However, there is likely to be a push for Folau to stay with his grade club - Sydney University - if the Students are involved in a NRC franchise.
Folau is a footballing hero in the Western Suburbs, and he can be expected to lure enormous crowds if he appears in Greater Sydney Rams colours. The Greater Western Sydney Giants AFL team previously lured him from rugby league primarily to use him as a promotional tool for the new club, and to attract players from the area.
The ARU still has not confirmed when exactly it will stage the NRC, but the tournament is likely to clash with the Wallabies' Test program this year, particularly the Rugby Championship, so Folau may be available for only a limited number of NRC games.
Those involved with the formation of the Rams have been informed by the ARU, however, that NRC franchises will be allowed to use marquee players from the Wallabies ranks as promotional tools and as ambassadors. Wallabies stars such as Folau will become a figurehead of the NRC franchises although their availability for matches ultimately will depend on the calendar and how it sits with the Wallabies' Test schedule from August onwards.
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