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Ticker: Is there any future for Folau in rugby league?

Wayne 'Ticker' Heming is a veteran rugby league correspondent and parochial Queenslander who has attended more than 100 State of Origin matches.

I reckon it would be tempting for Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett to jump on the phone or a plane ASAP to court Israel Folau back to the Broncos.

Folau is offside with many - reportedly including his rugby union bosses - because of recent comments on social media about homosexuality.

This has led to speculation the giant three-quarter is eyeing of a possible return to rugby league, where he was once one of league's entertainers.

If Brisbane, or any other NRL club for that matter, were to chase Folau they would no doubt cop a few hits from critics.

But in a game that has offered second chances to many, and been home to players and administrators of wildly varying dispositions, it is not beyond the realms of possibility to suggest it may happen.

I’ve always been reluctant to bag great clubs and the Broncos certainly fall into that category with their six premierships in 29 years.

But on what I’ve seen five rounds into an absorbing 2018 NRL season, I’d have to say they are only a few more ordinary performances away from being arguably the worst-ever Broncos team.

It’s a tough call for me to make, having proudly followed them since the day they trounced Manly 44-10 at Lang Park in their debut in 1988.

And only time will tell if I end up with egg on my face, because Brisbane have been known to make fools of their critics.

Folau, who scored 73 tries (39 for Brisbane) in 91 NRL games before going to the dark side for massive money, is the type of marquee player Brisbane urgently needs.

The stark reality is a goalpost and a highly controversial penalty have saved Brisbane (2 wins, 3 losses) from being 0-5, and we all know it is a hard road back from that kind of horror start.

What concerns me most about Brisbane is their lack of creativity across the park, their lack of direction, the form of their playmakers and their inability to bend back their opposition in the middle third battles.

A genuine money man like Folau would help their cause significantly on the park. But would his controversial views be detrimental in other ways and be a bridge too far for supporters?

For a club who have never really had a problem posting points and always commanded respect up front, Brisbane is struggling in both departments.

The club enjoyed years living off the deeds of hard men of the calibre of Glenn Lazarus, Shane Webcke, Petero Civoniceva, Gorden Tallis, Brad Thorn and others.

Broncos fans have also been lucky enough to cheer champions like Wally Lewis, Allan Langer, Gene Miles, Steve Renouf, Darren Lockyer, Michael Hancock, Wendell Sailor and many more.

Apart from the 24 points they put on North Queensland, Brisbane have averaged less than two converted tries a game, with teams containing their forwards and halves with ease.

Premiership-winning Broncos teams of the past have had two or three game-breakers, a power prop, an intimidating forward and a swagger about them.

When they appeared in their last grand final against the Cowboys in 2015 they had all those guns in their arsenal.

Fullback Darius Boyd, currently struggling with injuries, was at the top of his game, Anthony Milford was in breathtaking form, and half Ben Hunt was outstanding at times.

In the pack, Matt Gillett was close to the best back-rower in the game while Kiwi hardman Adam Blair provided the necessary mongrel along with help from Sam Thaiday.

Representative lock Corey Parker and hooker Andrew McCullough were the defensive rocks on which Brisbane built its victories.

Veteran international centre Justin Hodges was the man who provided the passion and leadership for that side, which lost one of the great grand finals 17-16.

Fast forward three years and Hunt (St George Illawarra) Hodges (retired), Parker (retired) centre Jack Reed (retired) and Blair (Warriors) are gone.

Enter Jack Bird and front-rower Matt Lodge.

With a pack that still includes quality in Gillett, Thaiday, Alex Glenn, Josh McGuire and some very promising young guns like Tevita Pangi Junior, Jaydn Su’A and Joe Ofahengaue Brisbane have looked ordinary to say the least.

The facts are Boyd is down on form and confidence, Bird is yet to find his feet after off-season surgey, Milford is running but going nowhere, and his halves partner Kodi Nikorima is not leading the team behind a pack which is underperforming.

Brisbane’s forwards aren’t bending the line enough.

Gillett’s form is down, so is Thaiday’s and Glenn’s, while Lodge runs hard but hasn’t shown the skills he reportedly possesses.

Brisbane once boasted the best recruitment system in the NRL, but in recent years they’ve lost some extremely talented young players.

They couldn’t keep halfback Ash Taylor, then lost Hunt to a massive offer by the Dragons.

They’ve parted ways with outstanding back-rower Jai Arrow and prop Jarrod Wallace, who has since played Origin.

Making matters worse is they had their hands of Kalyn Ponga when he was 12 years of age, only to lose the boom sensation tipped to be the next superstar.

In 2010 Brisbane started the season with two wins from their opening six games and closed off a forgettable season with five straight losses to go 10-14 and miss the finals.

That was Folau’s last season in rugby league before the AFL recruited him as a publicity gimmick.

If Folau was to head back in the opposite direction and return to league, the irony is that it would be the exact opposite of good publicity, but may reap dividends on the field.