Mission improbable for Folau

Brisbane Times/April 1, 2008

Religious leaders close to Israel Folau's family have good news for the Brisbane Broncos - and bad news for football teams at Mormon missions around the world.

A Mormon spokesman says there will be no pressure on Brisbane's star signing to put his football career on hold and fulfil a two-year mission for his church.

Folau was yesterday unveiled as Brisbane's marquee player of the future after agreeing to terms on a four-year deal reputedly worth $1.6 million, although the Broncos have played down speculation over that figure.

The 18-year-old is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as Mormons. The group strongly encourages members to begin two years of missionary service when they reach the age of 19.

David Munro, a church leader in the Boronia Heights ward where Folau's parents, Eni and Amelia, attend, said there would be no push from within for Folau to take up his sabbatical.

"We encourage all of our young men to serve the mission at age 19," said Munro. "The choice is up to them. And, look, being realistic, he's 18 years old making big decisions that are life-changing. We certainly don't put any pressure on him at all."

Munro said the very fact the church has such a high-profile member means Folau is fulfilling a higher purpose by embarking on a clean-living lifestyle in the public eye.

"The other thing to remember is everybody knows he's a member of the church," Munro said. "It's a pretty high standard he's going to live by; he doesn't drink or smoke and he's a good role model. So just by living his religion he's a missionary in that sense as well.

"There's opportunities for him to serve later in life when he's an old fellow."

Broncos prop Ben Hannant is also a Mormon, and Parramatta fullback Krisnan Inu wrestled with a dilemma similar to the one Folau faces. Inu opted to postpone his mission and stay with the Eels.

Broncos chief executive Bruno Cullen said it was unclear whether a clause would be written into Folau's contract regarding the possibility of a spiritual absence, although he said the club would be sympathetic to the notion. "That's a private thing and if he chose to do that we'd have to honour that and respect it," Cullen said.

Following the religious call is not without precedent in the NRL. In 2004, promising Rooster Albert Hopoate shunned a contract extension to serve a two-year mission of door-knocking and preaching for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"This is something that was always going to happen," he told Fairfax in 2004. "I was brought up learning to go on mission, and now the time has come. It's nothing long term, though. I will be serving God for two years, then who knows what will happen after that."

Hopoate is back on the Roosters' books, while Sharks back-rower Fraser Anderson is another Mormon who has completed his mission.

Munro said he had no doubt Folau would make the right choice and would be guided by his family. "They are a very close family," Munro said. "You look at any mother when their 18-year-old or 17-year old goes to Melbourne to play football. I think she'll be very happy to have him back."

Folau's father, Eni, said he is overjoyed that his son is coming home. "I can tell you we're happy for his decision to come back close to us," he said. "That's the main thing."

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