Blues coach Sir John Kirwan chased high-profile code-jumper
Israel Folau, a player he believes could make a Sonny Bill
Williams-type impact in rugby union.
Folau, the former Australia and Queensland outside back, is
set to return to rugby league after a two-year stint with
Greater Western Sydney in the AFL.
The 23-year-old is said to be poised to sign for the
Parramatta Eels for more than $750,000 a season but has had
plenty of interest from other NRL clubs, as well as the Blues
and Super Rugby title holders the Chiefs.
Kirwan, who named his 32-player squad at a function at Eden
Park last week, said his admiration for Folau's talents
compelled him to leave a message with the player's agent.
"I didn't hear back so I took that as a no," Kirwan said. "I
thought he would be a good player in the mould of Sonny Bill.
"From what I've heard, he's a talented player. A bit like
Sonny Bill, it might take him a while to get used to things
but it would be worth the wait."
It's understood Chiefs coach Dave Rennie chased Folau hard
until September, when it became obvious the player wanted to
stay in Australia. Former league player Williams was a big
hit for the Chiefs last season before deciding to move back
to the NRL.
Folau was a phenomenal finisher at centre or on the wing with
the Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos before his switch to
The Australian-born player of Tongan descent made his NRL
debut for the Storm at the age of just 17, scoring 36 tries
in 52 games before moving to the Broncos where he scored an
incredible 37 tries in 38 games. At 18 years and 194 days he
was the youngest player to make his debut for Australia.
At 1.95m, he is an expert at taking the high ball to score,
and would have given Kirwan's young team incredible X-factor
and crowd-pulling ability.
Kirwan's outside back options include Rene Ranger, George
Moala, Waisake Naholo and Frank Halai. The latter pair, both
sevens experts, will be making their Super Rugby debuts.
Powerful runner Charles Piutau, who is also a relative
novice, is likely to concentrate on fullback.
Folau is said to have become an even better athlete during
his time at Greater Western Sydney, losing 7kg to weigh 97kg.
His body fat level also dropped, from seven per cent to an
extremely low four per cent.
His willingness to try something new was also attractive to
Kirwan. "He's courageous - it was a big move to go to the
AFL," Kirwan said.
The Blues coach was philosophical about missing out on Folau,
saying he had plenty of faith in his squad, but he confirmed
he also tried to get 100-test former All Blacks fullback Mils
Muliaina, who moved to Japanese club rugby after the World
Cup, to the Blues.
"We were definitely interested in him but he has decided his
future lies over there. His club [NTT Docomo] have offered
him a coaching position too so he will make that transition
there," Kirwan said.