OPINION: Why Rugby Australia should be thanking Israel Folau
WHAT a crazy ride it's been since April 10, the day Israel Folau hit 'share' on his Instagram page and sent the nation into a spin.
While I don't condone what he did, the saga has turned into a soap opera which keeps coming back for another season.
No matter what side of the Folau debate you sit on, you can't deny the star fullback has given rugby union a parting gift in this sorry war; relevance.
Did anyone else not realise Super Rugby was still a thing? I thought it died in 2011 with Angry Birds and planking.
Rugby union at the professional level is on its knees in this country.
Television ratings dropped below the A-League last year and crowd numbers are just as sparse.
The ACT Brumbies, the only Australian side to make the finals in 2019, recorded their second lowest home-crowd average in history this season with 8509.
Thanks to Folau, rugby is back in the nation's spotlight and has the average Joe on the street talking about it again.
The three-time John Eales medallist has dragged the code single-handedly from sporting obscurity to centre stage.
Australians haven't talked about the 15-man code this much since a blonde Englishman by the name of Jonny broke our hearts in 2003.
Do you remember the last time a State of Origin match wasn't the biggest talking point on the day of a game? Neither do I.
Instead of discussing the Cane Toads v Cockroaches, we were all giving our two bobs worth on a social media video in which 'Izzy' was making an ill-fated plea for $3 million from the public.
He snatched Australia's attention in a heartbeat.
Rugby union 1, rugby league 0.
And for those of you who argue "but people aren't talking about the actual rugby,"... NEWSFLASH, no one was talking about the actual rugby anyway.
What was the last big rugby story in Australia? Quade Cooper earning $800,000 a year to play park footy in Brisbane?
And to think, rugby's sunk to this level off the back of a four-cycle in which the Wallabies made the World Cup Final.
It's scary to imagine where the game will be in another four years if Australia bomb out in the quarter finals this year, which is a very real possibility
Rugby Australia should also be grateful to Folau for creating this storm, because in the eyes of many, they look like the rainbow on the other side.
When CEO Raelene Castle sacked the code's most high-profile player it drew a line in the sand which declared no one's bigger than the sport.
Folau's influence on social media is real. This isn't a wannabe model trying to flog off SkinnyMe Tea or booty bands with a special code.
The 30-year-old is followed by more 360,000 people on Instagram who adore him, and so they should, he's been one of the greatest cross-code athletes of all time.
So when he decided to break his contract and post homophobic material on social media again, the game was left with no choice.
It's not a freedom of speech or religious matter, it's a contractual one.
Folau agreed to the terms and conditions of his new deal, including stringent social media rules, when he put pen to paper in October last year.
He knew exactly what he was doing when he hit 'share' on April 10.
Major sponsor Qantas backed Rugby Australia's call to pull to pull the trigger on their biggest star.
It was a decision Castle and the board needed to make.
Why? The Qantas deal was signed in the shadows of the 2015 World Cup, when the Wallabies were projected to make a real fist of the tournament.
If Qantas were to pull out from their sponsorship if Folau stuck around, the governing body would lose a lot of money if they hit the negotiating table with new sponsors because of how far the product has fallen since.
So Castle had to make a call for the future of the game.
Castle herself has been a polarising character on the Australian sporting landscape.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Castle's previous work, she steered the Canterbury Bulldogs ship from 2013-2017.
Why is that relevant? Ms Castle signed off on numerous back-ended contracts for players at the club which former coach Des Hasler orchestrated.
The result? A salary cap mess which is still yet to be cleaned up two years after her departure.
It makes you wonder why Rugby Australia would then sign her to lead their game.
Perhaps no one else applied to drink from the poisoned chalice?
Maybe this saga hasn't just brought rugby back into focus but also prolonged the boss's career.