DOES Israel Folau have a future in Rugby League?
It’s been a tale of two Dragons of late for the dual-code Australia international.
There was no shortage of controversy when Catalans signed the centre in January of last year after he reached a settlement with rugby union body Australia Rugby over his sacking for writing homophobic posts on social media.
The Rugby Football League and Super League said they “deplored” Folau’s comments and that it was “a difficult decision” to allow him into the competition.
The centre subsequently made 15 appearances for Catalans last season, scoring five tries.
But there is major uncertainty over a return to France.
Folau is still in Australia dealing with pressing family matters, and new Kiwi centre signing Dean Whare has been allocated the No4 shirt he wore last season.
While Catalans say the door will remain open to Folau, they have also made it clear they will demand a fee should he seek an NRL return.
St George Illawarra have made a move – and experienced a backlash from sponsors and fans – while former club Brisbane have also been linked with the one-time Queensland Origin player who started his career at Melbourne.
Now Sydney’s Morning Herald has added a new twist to story via a poll of NRL chief executives and chairmen ahead of the new season, which starts on Thursday, when Melbourne face South Sydney.
Poll questions included ‘Would you support the return of Israel Folau to the NRL under strict conditions?’, to which 36 per cent of respondents said yes.
One sticking point could be the NRL’s potential reluctance to allow the registration of a player whose return has previously been ruled out.
However, when asked ‘Do you believe the NRL is deliberately making it difficult for clubs to try and sign Folau to deter them from lodging a contract?’, 70 per cent of respondents said no.
Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys said: “For Israel Folau to be registered, a club has to provide an application.
“We don’t have that. I can’t speculate which way we’ll go until we have that process. That’s in the rules of the NRL. It’s also policy. We’re not going to deviate from policy.
“If a club wishes to register Israel Folau, they’ll do it like any other player. There’ll be no special circumstances in this case.”
Other points to emerge from the Morning Herald poll include praise for the performances of both V’landys, who received an average rating of 4/6/5, and Andrew Abdo, who had an average rating of 4.3/5 over the ten months since he became NRL chief executive.
Meanwhile, 74 of respondents were against the NRL allowing hot Sydney Roosters prospect Joseph Suaalii to play first-team rugby before his 18th birthday.
V’landys said: “He’s potentially one of the best players ever, and I don’t want to put any pressure on the young kid. If I was a CEO of another club, I wouldn’t want him to play either.”
And 92 per cent of respondents believe the game improved as a result of the return to one referee implemented during the Covid crisis.