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How Israel Folau has become bigger than Australian rugby

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The bottom line is this; Folau does not care. Imagine the backlash if an NRL player directly criticised Todd Greenberg. Would he have come down hard and put the footballer back in their rightful place? One would imagine so.

It is understood Folaus people had already told Castle what he thought; meaning that when the column began doing the rounds on Monday evening, it was less of a surprise to the former Bulldogs boss.

In her first real test as the new boss of Australian rugby, Castle has been treading on egg-shells and given Folau the benefit of the doubt, clearly keen for this furore to be put to bed.

Misrepresented: Folau believes his views weren't correctly reflected by RA chief Raelene Castle's summary to the media.

Photo: AAP

Folau answered many questions in his column. Comparatively, Castle has not responded to Folaus claim. Did she misrepresent him? Was this deliberate, as Folau suspects?

This must be cleared up, for it portrays an interesting relationship between the codes No.1 administrator and No.1 influencer.

In reality, there is a race yet to be run. Contract negotiations with Folau have stalled over the last two weeks, even though there is ample time for all parties to agree to terms.

The 29-year-old, who has 62 Tests to his name, is off contract at the end of the year and a player RA is desperate to sign for the 2019 World Cup.

Folau wrote in his column – again, a power play – that he has fielded offers from the UK, other parts of Europe and Japan that far exceed anything RA could match.

Getting Folau to the negotiating table has been achieved by not punishing him, but he and his manager, Isaac Moses, will be playing hard-ball even more than before. Thats a guarantee.

With NRL clubs circling Folau for his services, he can afford to be obstinate because the reality is rugby needs Folau significantly more than he needs it.

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Meanwhile, the silent player over the last fortnight has been Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.

To think he is taking a back seat during this saga is naive.

Cheika was the man who brought Folau to the code and knows better than anyone how important it is he takes the field for Australia in their first World Cup match against Fiji on September 21 next year.

There is every chance Cheika has told Castle it is imperative to keep Folau happy. He has watched too much talent slip through his fingers and leave Australian shores over the last few years.

To lose Folau would be the cruelest blow of the lot.

RA is confident of keeping Folau in the 15-man code, as are the Waratahs, but a little less so than a month ago.

There was not a lot of conviction in Daryl Gibsons voice when asked about the likelihood of getting the magic Folau signature on a piece of paper above a dotted line.

Again, this is more a case of rugby convincing Folau why he should stay, rather than Folau convincing rugby why he wants to stick around.

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Tom Decent

Tom Decent is a journalist with Fairfax Media.

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