Catalans Dragons are resigned to the fact that Israel Folau will not be returning to the south of France.
The controversial dual-code international has been forced to return home to Australia because of a serious family illness and he is currently exploring options of resuming his career in the NRL.
Last week St George Illawarra announced they would no longer be pursuing the 31-year-old centre after showing initial interest and making him an offer, which was withdrawn after the club received objections from some of its supporters. And now Parramatta Eels are said to be interested in Folau, who has a year to run on his current deal at Stade Gilbert Brutus.
Dragons President Bernard Guasch has already stated that Catalans would be looking at financial compensation for the loss of the player, should he sign with another club down under.
The absence of Folau leaves a big hole in the Dragons’ backline and coach Steve McNamara will be looking for further recruits following the acquisition of Kiwi international Dean Whare (as revealed in League Express last week).
“It’s a problem we didn’t expect to have, but we’ll deal with it,” McNamara told League Express.
“We knew from the start how serious the health problem was and Israel has filled us in every step of the way. Unless that situation improves it is unlikely he will return, but the door is always open.”
McNamara recently expressed his frustration at suggestions in the media that Folau had simply walked away from the Dragons, and he added: “Some reports suggested he’d snubbed the club and that couldn’t be any further from the truth.
“He could not have been more in contact with us throughout this whole unfortunate situation and any suggestions otherwise are simply wrong.
“In all his time with us he’s been totally professional, not one ounce of bother, and a really popular member of the group. There’s a lot of respect for him among the players and he’ll be really missed here if he doesn’t return.”
Catalans were already in the market for one further overseas signing, but it now looks likely that two more recruits will be made.
Further pressure on the backline could develop when the results of medical scans on a knee injury for winger Arthur Romano are known. The 23-year-old French international had to be helped from the field in a reserves match at St Estève on Saturday and the results of hospital examinations will be revealed on Monday.
The Dragons have still yet to begin formal pre-season training because of French government virus control restrictions, but they are expecting to announce two warm-up games against Toulouse Olympique this week.
“We’re taking things day by day,” said McNamara.
“The players are staying extremely fit and we’re in talks with Toulouse on pre-season fixtures; we’re hoping to make an announcement at some stage this week. We’re also considering the possibility of playing against a French Elite One side, maybe a Presidents’ XIII, as we have done in the past.”
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