By Brad Walter NRL.com Senior Reporter
Rugby Australia’s decision to settle a legal case with Israel Folau over his sacking for homophobic comments has paved the way for him to join Catalans and possibly return to the Test arena with Tonga.
ARLC chairman Peter V’landys and his predecessor Peter Beattie have made it clear Folau would not be welcome in the NRL after posting his views on social media but he has never been officially banned.
Knowing the obstacles and reaction to signing Folau, no NRL club has been willing to take a risk on him but RFL officials admit the threat of court action prevented them from blocking his recruitment by Catalans.
“However distasteful his previous comments, we don’t believe that, under our current regulatory framework, these can prevent his participation in the sport,” an RFL statement said.
Super League CEO Robert Elstone added: “Super League does not have the authority to veto the registration of players and is satisfied by the due diligence carried out by The Rugby Football League.”
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Put simply, the RFL does not have the financial resources to pay out millions of dollars like Rugby Australia did after Folau sued them for wrongful dismissal.
With Folau seeking damages of up to $14 million, RA reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with the controversial star in December and issued an apology.
Elstone and RFL officials tried to dissuade Catalans from signing Folau and have imposed conditions on his registration, which include a hefty fine for the French club if he makes any homophobic comments.
Beyond that, they had little option but to accept his registration on a one-year deal valued at £200,000 and said the “moral responsibility for deciding whether to sign a player sits with individual clubs”.
This contrasts with a statement last year in which the RFL said it had the “ultimate discretion to refuse to register a player where … he has been deregistered by any other governing body”.
The International Rugby League board discussed Folau’s eligibility at the end of last season after he declared his availability for Tonga amid a dispute between the Pacific nation’s governing body and players over the sacking of coach Kristian Woolf.
With the IRL suspending the Tonga National Rugby League and reinstating Woolf, Folau’s selection did not become an issue as the St Helens mentor stuck solid with the players who had been loyal to the red jersey.
Tonga’s next Test will be against the No.1-ranked Kiwis during the June standalone representative weekend but it remains to be seen if Folau would force his way into a squad that has largely been together since the 2017 World Cup.
Officially, he will be considered but the 30-year-old has not played league for a decade after leaving Brisbane Broncos in 2010 to join AFL club GWS Giants.
Salary cap issues prevented Folau’s return to the NRL with Parramatta in 2013 and he signed with RA instead.
The moral responsibility for deciding whether to sign a player sits with individual clubs.RFL statement
Despite the ugly end to his Australian union career, the IRL is unlikely to stand in the way of Tonga selecting Folau in June or for this year’s Oceania Cup fixtures in October providing he is registered to play league.
He is not eligible to represent Queensland again as only NRL-contracted players are able to play in the State of Origin arena.
Folau said via a club statement that he would not be making any public comments over his controversial views on homosexuality.
“I’m a proud Christian, my beliefs are personal, my intention is not to hurt anyone and I will not be making further public comment about them,” Folau said.
If he does break that agreement, his contract can automatically be terminated by the Super League.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.