Stuart frustrated as race to sign Folau slows to a crawl

Pep talk ... coach Ricky Stuart talks to Parramatta players at the Eels' pre-season training session at Guildford.
Pep talk ... coach Ricky Stuart talks to Parramatta players at the Eels' pre-season training session at Guildford.

RICKY STUART'S jitters about the prospect of the Israel Folau deal being scuppered by the NRL have been somewhat allayed by Parramatta officials, who were meeting with NRL boss Shane Mattiske about the same time the coach was making his feelings known.

But, now a fortnight after Folau announced he was quitting the AFL, Stuart's comments still suggest that cracks are appearing in the Eels' plan to sign the star.

Stuart used his first field session as Parramatta coach on Wednesday morning to claim the unwillingness of the NRL to make decisions might force Folau to sign elsewhere.

''It'd be disappointing for him to go to another code,'' Stuart said. ''I've just being working hard as the club has with the league to have him play here but we seem to be just punching our heads against a brick wall.

''We're trying to do the right thing by the game and by the league in being transparent … it would be just nice to get people in positions to make decisions.

''I just know it's getting quite boring and tedious in terms of taking so long. I just wish someone could make a decision, say yes or no and then we can move on.''

Stuart maintained that Folau was ''anxious'' about the progress of negotiations since he quit AFL club Greater Western Sydney earlier this month.

''I have been talking to Israel. He is in a good frame of mind, he's OK,'' Stuart said.

''He is very anxious for it to happen but there's just not a lot happening.''

A few hours before Stuart's comments, Mattiske was meeting with new Eels chief executive Ken Edwards and the club's recruitment manager Peter Nolan.

''It's all moving forward,'' Edwards said.

''It's slower than all the parties involved would like. It's frustrating for Izzy, it's frustrating for Ricky, and it's frustrating for the boys, but it's going to take some time. We've just got to do it properly.''

Edwards did concede that, until a contract was finalised, there would be concerns that Folau might be lured elsewhere.

''That's always a concern,'' he said. ''While the deal's not done, it can't be underestimated. But everyone is working hard to get it done.

''He wants to be here and we want him here. That hasn't changed.''

The delays in finalising Folau's deal have already had repercussions. The club has all but given up on luring English forward Gareth Hock to the Eels, while they wade through the Folau fine print.

Manly this week announced the signatures of Eels players Justin Horo and Esi Tonga, as the Eels attempt to free up salary cap space. More could follow if the Eels are unable to reach a suitable arrangement with the NRL. Willie Tonga, a former teammate of Folau's, has been mentioned as a player who might make way for his fellow Queenslander.

Mattiske, though, maintained Wednesday's meeting with Eels officials was ''productive''.

''Parramatta understands the need to manage any proposed contracts within their salary cap and the rules,'' he said. ''We have been able to provide them with feedback on a number of questions they have had in terms of how a contract might be structured to comply with the rules.''

The absence of any certainty around Folau also prevents Stuart from making any firm decisions on where he positions his other stars. Folau's signing might affect Jarryd Hayne, who could be trialled at five-eighth to accommodate Folau at fullback. ''With what's involved in the pre-season, I've got enough demons just worrying about that,'' Hayne said. ''I just worry about things I can control, and I can't control that.

'''Sticky' [Stuart] knows where I want to play, but if he thinks that me playing five-eighth is going to benefit the team, I'll do what he says.

''It's a team game.''

This story Stuart frustrated as race to sign Folau slows to a crawl first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.