On a weekend when he may once have dreamt of lining up in either the NRL grand final or AFL decider, Israel Folau will spearhead Australia’s attack in a Rugby World Cup showdown with England.
Australia’s most decorated code-hopper, Folau will be tucked up in bed in the Wallabies’ London hotel at 5.30am on Saturday when the AFL decider between Hawthorn and West Coast get underway in Melbourne, perhaps recalling his Aussie rules career as poster boy for expansion club Greater Western Sydney.
On Sunday morning, as his old team Brisbane take on North Queensland in the NRL grand final in Sydney seeking a seventh premiership victory, Folau will likely be sitting in an ice bath at a recovery session.
In between, the Wallabies will be hoping he can lead them to a famous victory over the old enemy England at Twickenham, in a match which could secure their passage to the tournament’s knock-out stages.
It speaks volumes about how quickly things can change in Folau’s world that the gifted 26-year-old has very few memories of the 2011 Rugby World Cup – where Australia reached the semi-finals before being defeated by champions New Zealand.
“I watched bits and pieces but to be quite honest I didn’t really keep an eye out for the Wallabies,” admitted Folau, who was into his off-season after a developmental year with the GWS Giants before they entered the AFL in 2012.
“The season was done for us and I was just spending time with the family, so it’s a bit of a change around four years later to think about the situation now.
“…I never thought I’d be in this situation.”
This situation is the biggest match between England and Australia in nearly a decade – one which could end the host’s tournament at the pool stage.
Folau has repeatedly spoken of his desire to step up on the biggest stages. There are few bigger than that on offer on Saturday night, with 82,000 fans expected to pack into the Twickenham cauldron.
The intimidating atmosphere will be nothing new for Folau, who has stood tall in Bledisloe Cups, NRL grand finals, State of Origin and against the British and Irish Lions already in a glittering career.
And he says those experiences have helped keep him grounded in a week of non-stop hype.
“(I found) it didn’t work for me to try and carry that weight on or expectation of anyone else,” he said.
“That’s something you learn over the years. I’ve just got to do what feels comfortable for myself.
“I think I was just trying to carry too many people’s expectations, where you don’t need to, you know?
“You’ve just got to worry about yourself. That’s all it comes down to. You’re the only person who goes out there on the field and plays.”