A Queensland homecoming could be on the cards for Israel Folau if he opts to continue his rugby union career in next year.
While the NSW Waratahs are desperate to retain the off-contract Wallabies superstar, speculation has emerged about a shift to their fiercest Super Rugby rivals.
The 29-year-old has held talks with Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn regarding a possible move next year, according to News Corp .
The Reds become the latest club linked to Folau, after talk of a $1.4 million dollar deal from England’s Sale Sharks and an NRL offer from Gold Coast Titans.
But there could be something in it if his relationships with key figures at the Waratahs have become strained, despite claims to the contrary from inside the franchise.
An incredulous tweet from Folau’s wife Maria at the weekend suggested some discontent over Folau being used on the wing instead of his preferred fullback position.
Coach Daryl Gibson switched Folau to the wing earlier this season and, while he started at fullback in the narrow loss to the Blues on Saturday, he was shifted to the wing for the crucial closing stages as bench players arrived.
“OMG @NSWWaratahs why do you keep playing @IzzyFolau on the wing????,” tweeted Maria Folau.
Folau has always maintained publicly that he’s happy to play wherever asked and NSW assistant coach Chris Malone insisted on Monday that remained the case, saying there had been numerous discussions about it.
Waratahs CEO Andrew Hore on Tuesday attempted to hose down departure talk, issuing a short statement.
“Israel said publicly last week that contract negotiations are still ongoing with us and Rugby ,” said Hore.
“As far as we are aware, reports of a move to another Super Rugby franchise is purely speculation.
“We have said before what value he brings to our team, and that has not changed.”
There’s no doubt Folau would be a huge asset for the Reds, who won’t comment on transfer speculation.
Aidan Toua has been serviceable at fullback for them this season – replacing the banished Karmichael Hunt – but Folau would be a major step up and add an extra dimension to the team’s struggling attack.
Folau grew up in Logan, a short drive south of Brisbane, and previously played for Brisbane in the NRL and for the Queensland State of Origin team.
However, the Reds would need to find a way to offload Hunt, Quade Cooper and Nick Frisby to make a move for Folau financially workable.
All three are unwanted by Thorn but are contracted to the club until the end of 2019.
Hunt is seemingly unwilling to risk injury by playing in Brisbane club rugby and appears to be biding his time until a suitable offer from Europe arrives, with no chance he will return to the Reds fold after his second drug indiscretion.
Cooper is also keen to work his way back into Thorn’s good books and has, according to The n, knocked back offers to play out the season with the Brumbies and Melbourne Rebels, while Frisby is on loan to French club Bordeaux for this season.