NSW Waratahs star Israel Folau has ticked most boxes in Super Rugby but will need to break a seven-year hoodoo to achieve another career first against the Brumbies on Friday night.
The Waratahs acknowledge beating the Brumbies in Canberra remains one of the biggest challenges in Super Rugby and need to conquer their arch rivals away from home for the first time since 2011 to stay in the hunt for all-important Australian conference honours.
Folau’s run of outs in the national capital stretches across three football codes.
The dual international has not only lost his only two Super Rugby games in Canberra, but also suffered disappointment aplenty in both the NRL and AFL.
His uncharacteristic failures also include losses with the Brisbane Broncos and two defeats with the Greater Western Sydney Giants during his brief stint in the AFL in 2012.
Folau’s last victory at the Brumbies’ GIO Stadium fortress came back in 2008 when he was a teenager plying his trade for the Melbourne Storm.
It wasn’t at the same venue or even in rugby league or union, but Folau can at least draw on one happy memory in Canberra, having featured in GWS’s historic first AFL victory three years ago at Manuka Oval.
That afternoon, Folau enjoyed one of his best games in the code, claiming 11 touches and effecting four tackles as the Giants rolled the Gold Coast Suns by 27 points.
“I’ve had some good experiences and bad ones at different grounds, but I don’t look at it in that point of view,” he said on Tuesday.
“I enjoy the experience or the challenge where I play no matter what regardless of what’s happened in the past and I just try to embrace that opportunity and try to make the most of it.”
The challenge this week is as big as it gets for the Waratahs, who return to Canberra for the first time since coach Michael Cheika infamously broke a door in frustration in the coaches’ box.
The year before, the Brumbies, with 12 wins from their past 13 home games, thumped the Waratahs 35-6.
“It’s a real sign of where we are as a team going to a very difficult place to play,” said Waratahs attack coach Daryl Gibson.
“There’s plenty at stake given the state of the table and the log. It’s a critical game for both teams and I imagine the winner gives themselves a pretty good advantage.”
Gibson is tipping the game will be won in the contact zone and is looking forward to the head-to-head duel between Brumbies breakaway David Pocock and NSW flanker Michael Hooper.
Cheika would likely play down the importance of their battle when it comes to the selection table, but Gibson believes Hooper’s showdown with Pocock will undoubtedly impact both stars’ Test prospects.
“Obviously David Pocock, we’ve seen is very strong on the ball and a real pest around the breakdown,” Gibson said.
“Hoops is almost like a second back. The try that he set up the other night. I think Pocock would struggle to do that.
“So you’ve got to admire them for their skill sets and just admire the battle.”