Israel Folau confirms return to Australian rugby league

Publish Date
Fri, 21 May 2021, 1:09PM

Israel Folau confirms return to Australian rugby league

Publish Date
Fri, 21 May 2021, 1:09PM

Controversial cross-code footballer Israel Folau could make his return to Australian sport later this month after signing with amateur club Southport Tigers in the Gold Coast's A-Grade rugby league competition.

Supported by billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer, Folau announced his intention to feature in next weekend's match against the Burleigh Bears.

Palmer's mining company are sponsoring the 32-year-old's return, which is pending approval from Queensland Rugby League.

"I am very pleased to announce that through sponsorship with Mineralogy, this great sporting champion will soon be returning to rugby league," Palmer said in a statement.

"Arrangement have been made. Israel has signed with the Southport Tigers for the remainder of the season.

"The Brisbane Broncos were good enough to release Israel and we expect to see him taking the field as early as their round-four match against the Burleigh Bears on May 29.

"It is clear that Israel is undoubtedly the world's number one player. He was unfairly punished and persecuted for his religious beliefs and it is only right that he should return to the game.

"We hope the Queensland Rugby League will register Israel in accordance with the law."

The businessman and politician also took out a front-page advertisement on The Courier-Mail on Thursday: "LET ISRAEL FOLAU PLAY FOOTBALL."

Speaking to reporters on Thursday morning, Folau thanked Jesus Christ for the opportunity to sign with the Tigers — a club his brothers represent and Palmer is a patron of.

"I just want to give thanks to my lord and saviour Jesus Christ for this opportunity," Folau said.

"I am excited to be here and link up with Clive. The opportunity he's given me and my family is something I'm really grateful for."

When questioned about Folau's controversial social media activity which saw him lose his contract with Rugby Australia, Palmer said: "I don't know what his views are, all I know is that he's placed on Twitter or something a quote from the bible and I know the bible is used every day and quoted in churches right across Australia.

"I know when we go to parliament; many parliamentarians refer to texts in the bible. I know when you go to court you swear by putting your hand on the bible.

"For me, it's nothing extraordinary that someone makes a quote from the bible.

"It shouldn't affect someone's livelihood and how he can support his children."

Palmer also claimed he would take legal action against QRL if the governing body does not approve his registration.

"We want an example where people of all faiths can play sport. Religious freedom is a fundamental right in this country," he said.

"I've got some resources and if it got down to a legal battle, I'm sure anyone opposing somebody on the basis of religious persecution would go down very seriously and pay damages. There's no legal basis to not register him, he's been cleared by the Broncos."

QRL chair Bruce Hatcher said: "We have received a letter to the QRL.

"The process has started with the south-east region, who look after Ipswich, the Gold Coast and Toowoomba. They will go through their process.

"We haven't received anything official yet. When we do, we will have to go through due process and I would suggest it would have to be fairly detailed because we would have to do it in accordance with our rules and our procedures."

Folau became a controversial figure after the former Wallaby posted a homophobic message on his Instagram account that said, "Hell awaits … drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators," — adding they should "repent".

In response, Rugby Australia tore up his contract.

While doors from sporting codes in Australia were slammed shut, Folau joined Super League club Catalans Dragons, but appeared to walk out on the club during the off-season hoping to reignite an NRL career.

Despite attracting interest from the St George Illawarra Dragons, the club withdrew its pursuit amid a harsh backlash from NRL fans and club sponsors.

Folau played 91 games with the Brisbane Broncos and Melbourne Storm, eight Tests for Australia and five State of Origin matches for Queensland.

He left the sport in 2010 after joining the AFL's GWS Giants in the club's inaugural season.