Greater Western Sydney
Headless chickens everywhere can have their intellectual property back. There is no longer a human trying to imitate their every move after Israel Folau yesterday officially abandoned his AFL folly.
It’s hard to know who’s the biggest winner. The AFL wins because they can say their game is too hard for those Neanderthal leaguies to play. Folau wins, because he takes the money and runs. The Queensland State of Origin team and Folau’s likely new club Parramatta wins. And GWS wins, because they no longer have to carry a non-performer.
From the beginning, Folau was a mystifying choice as poster boy for the AFL’s great expansionist dream. Though born in Sydney’s south west, he played league for Melbourne, Brisbane and the Qld State of Origin team and was widely seen as a Queenslander.
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On May 28 last year, Gold Coast Suns rugby league recruit Karmichael Hunt kicked his first AFL goal. We put a story up the Sunday morning after that fateful Saturday night, so we thought we’d better extend Israel Folau the same courtesy this morning.
Folau’s goal won’t go down as one of the great goals in AFL history, but it may be remembered as one of the most significant. If this former NRL high flyer can convert his skills to AFL, his new club will take Giant steps towards mainstream acceptance in Sydney.
Wily Giants coach Kevin Sheedy did something extremely interesting this week. To borrow a political phrase, he dog whistled. After the Giants’ loss to the West Coast Eagles, he said that Folau could have kicked three goals if his team-mates had actually passed him the ball. He made this statement to the media, but in effect, he was saying it for the benefit of his own players.
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Some battle. If this is “code war”, then it’s being fought with fairy floss and honeycorn and a giant G-Man foam creature which looks about as menacing as a smurf.
Sunday afternoon at Blacktown Olympic Sportspark, and the AFL’s latest attempt at national domination doesn’t feel like a shot across rugby league’s bow. There is no scent of Zeitgeist, of regime change, of revolution. You wouldn’t even know there’s a game on until you see a small trickle of orange-clad supporters filing into the small stadium set among bushland 39km from Sydney’s CBD.
The 10,000 capacity ground is the Greater Western Sydney Giants’ training base, and a temporary match day venue until the renovated 25,000 capacity Sydney Showground Main Arena (Skoda Stadium) opens in May. The tiny ground is far from full. That’s not to slap Andrew Demetriou or the incredibly hard-working Kevin Sheedy and his GWS team across the face. It’s just how it is.
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The AFL season kicked off in Sydney this weekend, with the Swans/Giants showdown at the old Olympic Stadium. Not that you’d have known in Sydney’s inner south, where I live.
At my two local pubs, both of which are firmly in NRL Dragons territory, every single TV monitor was tuned to the live NRL match between the Dragons and Sea Eagles. I would sooner have ordered a Pimms and Lemonade than ask the bar staff to change the channel.
The AFL won’t despair over this. Their main target market isn’t the over-30s who’ll likely never pay any attention to the scrappy, unmanly sport from the southern states.
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I am torn. There are clearly two sides, and they just can’t seem to get on with each other.
Sometimes I think the fighting must stop, other times I am prepared to back my favourite.
Then there is the issue of the constant expansion! I just don’t understand why it is going ahead in West, Bank(stown).
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So rugby league star Israel Folau has been lured to play a code he’s never played for a team that doesn’t exist yet who’ll play out of a stadium that hasn’t been built yet. Cue all the so-called experts, most of whom follow either rugby league or AFL, but not both codes, to argue why Folau’s switch to team Greater Western Sydney will or won’t work.
Face it, guys. Neither you nor I can say whether Folau’s exceptional leaping skills will work in a pack mark situation. Israel tips the scales at 103 kilos, the same as Barry Hall and Jonathan Brown, but we’re kidding if we think we know whether he’ll cut it as a power forward.
As to whether Folau will be able to master that ungainly AFL skill known as handballing, well, not even Nostradamus would dare take a stab at that one. But there is one guy who’s got a fair idea of what lies ahead for Folau. His name’s Mike Pyke, and he’s the Sydney Swans ruckman who used to play rugby union for Canada.
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