Folau ready for Super battle of Brisbane
February 18, 2013
Star recruit Israel Folau has shown promising pre-season trial form for the Waratahs. © Getty Images
In Israel Folau's past life as a Queensland State of Origin powerhouse, Suncorp Stadium was his No.1 playground and NSW his favourite play thing. The tables have turned on his state allegiance, but the Waratahs' prized Super Rugby recruit would like to think his magic touch in Brisbane hasn't left him.
In Folau's latest reincarnation as rugby new boy, he'll find out on Saturday night what it feels like to run into The Cauldron wearing blue. The try-scoring phenomenon made humiliating NSW a habit between 2008-10 in the rugby league arena, but now he's in charge of leading the state's return from Super Rugby oblivion.
Folau is following in the footsteps of Mat Rogers, Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuqiri, who all turned their back on Queensland to make a name for themselves in Waratahs rugby. He's just two trial matches into his rugby career following a two-year experiment in the AFL, but already Folau has shown signs of being the most damaging cross-code convert there's been.
Queensland's clash against the Wartahs is one of two blockbuster Australian Conference derbies this coming weekend, with the flashy Melbourne Rebels to test their credentials at home to the uncompromising Brumbies on Friday night.
If round-one wins to the Rebels and Brumbies were anything to go by, the stakes may have risen in the Australian Conference. Queensland were shut down 24-6 by the Brumbies in Canberra and slaying Folau and the Waratahs becomes even more vital for the Reds.
"We've already started to work on the Waratahs and that's what you do," said Reds' director of coaching Ewen McKenzie. "You move on and analyse the next team. Our challenge next week hasn't really changed. As much as you're disappointed you have to be pretty good at flicking the switch and moving on to the next opportunity."
McKenzie was happy with his team's defence and provided that standard is maintained, he's confident Quade Cooper and the rest of his backline will start to flourish.
"You want to get your defence right from day one and then you build your attack," McKenzie said.
There's a long way to go for the Rebels, but their 30-23 win over the Western Force on Friday marked the first time they've won an opening round match in their three-year history. Wallabies dynamo James O'Connor looked sharp at fullback and their forward pack appear up for the fight with Scott Higginbotham in the mix.
Brumbies recruit David Pocock's mere presence gave his teammates confidence in the tight moments against the Reds. Brumbies captain Ben Mowen sees a new maturity after the young side choked with the finals in reach last year.
"Just the way we approach training and prepare around games I can tell there's a sense of calm around what we're doing. Everyone knows their job," Mowen said. "We'll move onto the Rebels now ... they're obviously offering a lot more this year than in previous years. They look like a much harder working side."
The Western Force are expecting to welcome stars Nick Cummins, Hugh McMeniman and Matt Hodgson back from injury in their clash against South African newcomers the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter