Israel Folau: St George Illawarra ask NRL for permission to sign Catalans centre for 2021

4 weeks ago
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Israel Folau

St George Illawarra have applied to the National Rugby League for permission to register and sign Israel Folau from Super League side Catalans Dragons.

However, the 31-year-old is still contracted to Perpignan-based Catalans for another year.

His return would depend on the NRL, which has previously said he failed the league’s “inclusiveness culture”.external-link

It relates to the sacking of Folau by Rugby Australia, when he was playing union, following a social media post in April 2019 in which he stated that “hell awaits” gay people.

He later reached a settlement with the governing body, which he sued for alleged religious discrimination.

Although Catalans were allowed to sign Folau in January 2020, Super League chief executive Robert Elstone later admitted regret at the way the decision was taken.

Catalans recently reacted to rumours of an NRL move by explaining Folau’s delayed return to the south of France after a pre-season break in Australia as being caused by a “family situation”. and they remained in contact.

A club spokesperson told BBC Sport their position is unchanged at this stage, but chairman Bernard Guasch has told French newspaper L’Independant that compensation would be sought if Folau were to leave.

The former Queensland Origin player, who was previously a star in the NRL with Brisbane Broncos and Melbourne Storm, scored five tries in 15 games with Catalans in a shortened 2020 Super League season.

Analysis – ‘Folau would face a media storm in Australia’

Dave Woods, BBC rugby league correspondent

There’s no doubt that Israel Folau is star quality, an athlete very much at the peak of his powers.

Had it not been for the off-field controversy he has stirred, it’s highly unlikely that he would be playing in the Super League right now. He’d still be playing international rugby union or would be back in the NRL already, earning the mega bucks.

Those that defend him say he is the consummate professional and that his personal views are just that.

But given that those views were always likely to offend and stir up so much anger among a large section of society, he can’t claim victimhood when vitriol comes back his way in torrents and leaves people thinking they don’t want him around.

Judging by social media’s response to his possible return to the NRL – never a healthy gauge, I know – there will be plenty of that vitriol heading in his direction were he to make the move to St George Illawarra Dragons.

There will certainly be a bigger media storm gathering around him as a high-profile rugby league player in New South Wales than he could possibly face in any other scenario open to him.

The NRL could also face a tricky legal situation as well, just as Super League did, when they decide whether the player passes their behaviour thresholds.

When Folau signed for Catalans, plenty of Super League clubs were against the move but felt that stopping him from doing so could amount to constraint of trade and would lead to a costly legal challenge from Folau’s representatives.

Folau hasn’t returned to France and to training with the Catalans Dragons just yet because of a family illness back home in Australia, which has intensified speculation that he wants to be released from the second year of his contract with the French club.

Catalans say they have been in contact with him on a regular basis and there’s no hint of a fall out between the two parties.

He was reportedly happy with life in Perpignan and if he is seeking a low profile off the field without too much scrutiny on his religious beliefs, whilst enjoying playing rugby league, then the south of France remains an ideal location.

His next step will depend on whether the pull of the family crisis in Australia will force him to stay there and face a whirlwind of attention. Or whether he can return to Catalans where he’s been creating few waves off the field in recent times, but plenty of admiration on it for his skills and athleticism.

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BBC Sport – Rugby League

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