"Never say never."
That was Rugby Australia (RA) CEO Raelene Castle's surprise response when asked if it was clear Israel Folau's days of playing in Australia were finished.
"At the end of the day, his contract has ben terminated," she told reporters the day after agreeing to what's been reported as a multimillion-dollar settlement in an unfair dismissal case with the former Wallaby.
"It's clear to see our values are not aligned and the expectations that Rugby Australia would have of Israel coming back into the sport, would not be acceptable to him."
Prompted for a more definitive answer, Castle said: "Never, say never, it'd be crazy for me to say that. What I'm saying is we have a value disalignment and at the end of the day I don't believe he would sign the current player contract which means he would have to be respectful with his social media use."
Castle found herself under attack after settling Folau's lawsuit but insists she "didn't back down" by agreeing to a payout. She said the agreed figure - which was confident - was less than what it would have cost RA to go trial in February next year.
Earlier on Thursday, Castle had been forced to dispute a reported settlement figure of A$8 million, describing the claim as "wildly inaccurate". Additionally, Castle says RA won't have to make changes to the budget or take money away from community rugby to pay Folau.
Addressing media at RA HQ on Thursday, Castle said the national body was covered by insurance but couldn't discuss to what extent.
"We needed to give the game cost-certainty," Castle said. "The feedback we were getting from our rugby community was they wanted this matter settled. They want to go into the New Year with a clean slate knowing they can start talking about rugby again instead of talking about this case."
Once again, Castle stood by RA's decision to hold Folau to account regarding his controversial public opinions.
"We made the right decision in calling out Israel on his posts and inappropriate messaging, that remains the same," she said.
"We stick to our values that inclusiveness is core to the key of rugby. Taking this conversation further into a court situation was not helping the game."
Castle said she felt she was still the right person to lead RA, and backed the way she and the board had handled the matter.
"I do because at the end of the day this has been very difficult. There's not a business leader that leads an organisation that I've spoken to that hasn't looked at this situation and gone, 'this is a very difficult thing' … This is one of the most difficult issues a CEO could deal with in corporate Australia."
Folau claimed he was wrongfully dismissed by Rugby Australia and Rugby NSW after a controversial Instagram post in April condemning "drunks" and "homosexuals" and warning "hell awaits" them.
Folau is a hardline Christian who also recently claimed fatal bushfires were God's punishment for legalising abortion and same-sex marriage, sparking criticism from Prime Minister Scott Morrison.