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After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.

Ruck'n Maul
ARU left jittery over Folau issue
Greg Growden
April 24, 2014
Israel Folau crosses the whitewash within the opening 30 seconds against the Bulls, Waratahs v Bulls, Super Rugby, Allianz Stadium, Sydney, April 19, 2014
The ARU have been left jittery after rumours swirled of Folau leaving rugby © Getty Images
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Australian Rugby Union officials are understandably jittery about losing Israel Folau; prompting numerous frantic telephone calls in recent days to ensure their biggest draw card does not go to the NRL. As revealed in last week's column, the Sydney Roosters NRL club wants Folau, especially as they know the player is not happy with how the ARU has recently treated him. Folau remains deeply unimpressed with how the ARU jumped in over the top of the Waratahs medical staff, forcing him out of the Force match due to his throat problem.

It appears the ARU has at last seen the stupidity of its ways, prompting senior officials to contact those who know Folau well to try to convince all parties concerned that his future remains in rugby. Our snouts tell us these telephone calls were somewhat tense, especially as the ARU was duly informed that it has done virtually nothing for Folau in recent times. Hanging over the ARU's head is the uncertainty whether several promised third party deals - which is in the six figures - will come to fruition.

Adding further tension at ARU HQ is that opposition is intensifying over the Super Rugby expansion plans. Not just sections of the media, but Australian provinces are now telling the ARU that it should ignore South Africa's requests for more teams, and instead push its own interests. ARU boss Bill Pulver's bizarre comment that he didn't "always make decisions exclusively for the good of Australian rugby" has rankled many at Australian provincial level.

Not surprisingly there has been a push for the ARU to be far more proactive at SANZAR level. But don't expect that to happen overnight. It is well known at both SANZAR and International Rugby Board level, Australian delegates are often ignored. Australia's once-strong power base has diminished badly in recent times. That's not surprising when you hear Australian officials admitting privately that they are 'intimidated' by their South African and New Zealand counterparts. Sad, but true. A major shake-up and some much-needed backbone is required.

Two league stars in rugby; one succeeding, one gone

National Rugby Championship still in shambles

Despite all the hullabaloo about the National Rugby Championship starting up in a few months, there is serious trouble brewing. Our men on the ground tell us that six of the NRC franchises are already behind targeted budgets, and at eight franchises expenditure is already over projections. Also how the competition is actually going to work remains a mystery to many, including those who are supposed to be involved in it.

Greg Growden and Russell Barwick give you the inside word on Super Rugby round 11
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Rifts in Reds camp

It is little wonder the Queensland Reds have been erratic this season. We keep hearing all is not well under the Richard Graham regime. Our bananabender snouts say that apart from rifts between important players and coaching staff, team-mates have also started to bicker. With expletives flying in every direction, one senior player castigated another key team member at a recent meeting. It appears some in the Reds squad are not happy that several are in the 'untouchable' category. There is also a bit of toing and froing going on at the Rebels, with players unimpressed a key official told them it was not advisable to mix with the opposition. And at another province, a media representative has been advised not to fraternise with the players. Edgy times.

Tom Carter saving Sydney club rugby?

Full marks to former Waratah centre Tom Carter enlivening the Sydney club rugby ranks. At a time when personalities are desperately needed in the code, Carter, one of the most entertaining wind up merchants going around, is doing his best for Sydney University, and stirring up opposition crowds with his larger-than-life behaviour, which includes wearing flouro orange boots. Still no apology from the Waratahs media department for their dreadfully erroneous club rugby media release from the previous week. And then they try to blame us. Disgraceful.

Rumour(s) of the week

Our discovery that an Australian official is being investigated over overseas share transactions has turned the person involved into a Nervous Nellie. Naturally worried about the ramifications, the panicking individual is now desperately trying to find out who is 'leaking' this information. Let's just say it's flowing from everywhere. For good reason Nervous Nellie's allies are shrinking by the day. And the clock is ticking.

Major concerns at a Sydney premiership club, over allegations of money having gone missing, and threats of the Australian Tax Office hovering.

A tired and emotional NSW official didn't exactly cover himself in glory when he attempted to meet the Royals when they suddenly appeared at the last Waratahs game. One too many glasses of bubbly led to him being carefully placed at arm's length when the Prince and co came into view. We've also been told the Waratahs players didn't even know the Royals were in the house.

Did a well-known Australian player really have to introduce himself to his province's out-of-touch CEO last weekend? The player said: "I am your half-back. We have never met." Crazy, but true.

And what's this about a once strong relationship between two ARU powerbrokers suddenly fragmenting? Something to do with conflicting public statements.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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