Catalans Dragons are close to agreeing an extension to the contract of controversial new recruit Israel Folau.
The 31-year-old former dual code Australian international star was at the centre of a media storm when he signed a one-year-deal at Stade Gilbert Brutus because of his high-profile bust-up with Wallabies chiefs following a religious comment he made on Instagram about homosexuality.
But just three games into his virus-truncated term with Catalans, it seems Folau is keen to extend his time at Super League’s French outpost. His wife, Kiwi netball star Maria, is expecting their first child in August and the couple have settled happily in the south of France.
He is understood to be grateful to the Catalan club for the faith shown in him and the warm reception he has received from fellow players, staff and supporters and he is considering the terms of an extended contract to play in the blood and gold.
Dragons President Bernard Guasch told Perpignan’s L’Indépendant newspaper: “We’ve been talking to him for ten days now. We offered him two more years and then finally a year. We asked him to be patient with the circumstances and in front of us we found a clear, reasonable man who is interested to stay.”
Guasch said he was keen to see Folau remain at the club beyond 2020 and he thought his brief cameo roles in three games so far had changed some perceptions of the player.
He added: “I’m surprised to see all those people who pointed the finger at us when Folau signed with the Dragons now making proposals to him. His three matches with us were enough to see people change their opinions.
“I understand that he may have other desires to finish his career elsewhere after the two or three seasons he will spend with us, but he is someone who has recognition for our club and for the way the club has committed itself to him.”
According to French rugby union media Folau has rejected approaches from the 15-a-side code and agreed to extend his contract with the Dragons. Top 14 clubs, including Montpellier (just along the coast from Perpignan) had been linked with Folau but it now looks likely that he will remain in Super League for at least another year.
Folau has already spoken of his gratitude for the opportunity to resume his playing career at Catalans. He recently told League Express: “I’m just glad to be back in the training and playing environment and the people over here have been very welcoming. My wife and I are very grateful for the reception we’ve had.
“It’s an exciting time for us in a new country, trying to learn a new language, but we’re enjoying it so far. The players and staff have been great, they’ve made us feel very comfortable and we are enjoying our time here in Perpignan.”
Coach McNamara is keen to see his star recruit prolong his time at the Dragons, saying, “Israel has fitted into the squad very well. It’s quite clear that he offers a great deal to the side on the pitch, but off it too he has a great deal of experience in different codes, and that is invaluable, particularly to our younger players.”
Meanwhile, Folau’s legal battle with Australian rugby union bosses has been named as one of the reasons why the 15-a-side code is on the verge of bankruptcy down under.
He challenged Rugby Australia’s decision to sack him because of the religious beliefs he expressed on social media and received an out-of-court settlement rumoured to be around four million Australian dollars.
The ARU’s administration is currently struggling to deal with debts of around $20 million and faces the imminent threat of insolvency. World Rugby, the international governing body for that code, has recently agreed to extend a loan of $10 million to the ARU.