WARATAHS star Israel Folau has opened up about his "challenging" Super Rugby season and why the Reds win represents light at the end of the tunnel.
Saturday's 29-26 win at Suncorp Stadium was just the third of the Waratahs' season yet given the state of the misfiring Australian conference, a bonus-point victory over the Blues this weekend would bring NSW level with the Brumbies in top spot.
While no one at Waratahs HQ is kidding themselves about the work still ahead, the triumph over the old foe provided a massive shot of satisfaction and confidence.
The likes of Folau and Michael Hooper have deep reservoirs of success to draw from during difficult times but for the Waratahs' younger brigade the importance of that victory is hard to overstate.
"It's a tough thing for young guys to come in an environment like this and it's been a challenging year," Folau said.
"You've got to try and get those guys up around you and that's what the senior boys are doing.
"It's good to do that and it's a learning experience for all of us really.
"It doesn't matter if you're a new guy or a guy that's been around a long time, it's always a challenge to dig yourself out of the situation you're in and push forward."
Statistically speaking, Folau is experiencing the quietest of his five Super Rugby campaigns, with his tries (three), runs per game (7.9), run metres per game (70), tackle busts (24), linebreaks (five) and try assists (two) all down on previous seasons.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is a big fan of Folau's qualities at fullback and he is expected to retain the No.15 jersey for the June Tests.
Karmichael Hunt (Reds) and Dane Haylett-Petty (Force) are pushing hard, however, and Folau knows he has significant room for improvement.
"I've got to say it's been a challenging year but there's no excuses, everything's coming from my end and even though it's challenging, it's a great time to also grow as a player," Folau said.
"A bit hold and cold really, I hold the bar high for myself personally and I'm always critiquing things.
"I'm pretty hard on myself - which is a good thing, I've always been like that throughout my whole career, so I'm always trying to push the standards there, for myself.
"It's been a challenging year but those years come around and I think the positive out of that is growing personally as a player.
"It looks like a negative but it's actually a positive, which is a great thing."
Folau pointed to Melani Nanai and Rieko Ioane as two of the Blues' many dangermen and played down the significance of the matchup with fellow codehopping superstar Sonny Bill Williams.
He declined to respond to criticism from Wallabies coach Alan Jones, who labelled Folau overrated and a poor passer.
"I don't read the media or anything so I'm not worried about that," Folau said.
"It really doesn't faze me at all."
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