The Dragons have reportedly made a major move to recruit Israel Folau back into the NRL, wanting to see him play rugby league again while wearing the Red V.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports St George has submitted a formal application to the NRL to sign Folau on a two-year deal in the hope of seeing him make a comeback this season to the code that made him famous.
The Dragons board has given the green light to go ahead with plans to recruit Folau, who would likely play in the centres if a contract was ratified.
“We are always on the lookout for great players,” St George CEO Ryan Webb told the Herald. “We have inquired with the NRL about Israel and we will work with them to hopefully see him join us in 2021.
“We understand there will be a range of opinions in regards to this decision, but we believe he would be a good addition to our club.”
However, NRL CEO Andrew Abdo was singing a slightly different tune when he said the league has not yet received a formal application regarding Folau, but said any such application would be considered.
The news has not been well received by rugby league supporters, who are dismayed the Dragons would confirm they’re chasing Folau on the same day it was revealed St George fan favourite Cameron McInnes is leaving to join Cronulla in 2022.
The Dragons wouldn’t offer McInnes, the captain and best-and-fairest winner for the past two years, the long-term deal he was after, and he will defect to the club’s biggest rivals the Sharks at the end of this season.
McInnes has been part of NSW Origin squads and is the heart and soul of the Dragons, showing tremendous character and leadership qualities during some lean years. It’s why the decision to let him go and chase Folau — who has caused controversy by voicing his views about gay people going to hell — has sparked such strong reaction on social media.
Jon Tuxworth tweeted: “If I were the Dragons, I would offer (Corey) Norman not much of the money and offer McInnes more of the money … And Folau none of the money.”
Rugby league reporter Pam Whaley wrote: “If I were the Dragons I would simply re-sign my very best player and not let him leave to my NRL rivals.
“If I were the Dragons I would simply not sign Israel Folau.”
Sarah Keoghan added: “Man. The move to punt Cam McInnes, who has been such a solid rock for the Dragons throughout some of the club’s rockiest times, to try and sign Folau is … red hot to say the least.”
Steve Zemek tweeted sarcastically: “Really astute move from the Dragons to give the a*** to one of the few blokes who’s consistently had a crack the last few years and try to sign Folau. Reckon this will end really well.”
Former football writer at The Australian, Ray Gatt, said: “Lose McInnes and bring in Folau … crazy.”
Sports journalist Phil Lutton wrote: “I mean, Folau, honestly. It’s a PR disaster on a day that was already a PR disaster and on the football front, surely his best days are behind him. Guessing he wouldn’t come cheap, either. Can someone please explain the thinking to me?”
Folau debuted for the Melbourne Storm as a teenager in 2007 before moving north to play two seasons with the Broncos between 2009-2010. The explosive back played five Origins for Queensland and eight Tests for Australia before dropping a bombshell and quitting to play AFL.
A short stint at GWS fulfilled its duty as a publicity stunt for the competition’s newest franchise and in 2013 Folau jumped across to rugby union, signing with the Waratahs and going on to play a key role in two World Cups for the Wallabies as he developed into one of the sport’s brightest talents.
But his contract with Rugby Australia was torn up for repeatedly making homophobic comments on social media, as he said “hell awaits” gay people unless they repent for their “sins”.
Folau sought $14 million in compensation as he launched legal action against RA for wrongful termination and a bitter, drawn-out saga between both parties came to a head in December 2019 when they agreed on a confidential financial settlement.
Unable to play rugby in Australia, Folau headed to France to play the 13-man code for the Catalans Dragons, who compete in the UK Super League. He signed a one-year extension last July to keep him at the club for the 2021 season but with COVID-19 causing havoc around the world, Folau returned to Australia during the summer after his wife Maria gave birth to their first child.
Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V’landys has said previously Folau’s views on homosexuality are not welcome in the NRL, but the Herald reports the governing body is willing to consider the Dragons’ application.
In October 2019, V’landys poured cold water over the idea of Folau ever returning.
“The game is inclusive. Israel’s comments are not inclusive,” V’landys said then.
“When I was a kid and kids used to get bashed up because they were different, I used to go and defend them. And a lot of them, it’s because their role models or their peers made them that way.
“I have no tolerance for people that put other people’s lives (at risk) or (who commit) violence. It’s a big statement to make. With due respect to Israel, what he says, young kids listen to. He is a role model. They act on it. And when you’re a kid at school and you get bashed up because you’re different, I don’t think that’s a good thing.”