Israel Folau: Sacked Australia player to make rugby league return for Tonga

Former rugby union international will return to rugby league after being sacked earlier this year for expressing homophobic views on social media

Jack de Menezes
Monday 23 September 2019 10:37
Sacked Australian rugby player Israel Folau launches fundraising campaign to pay for legal costs

Israel Folau is to return to rugby league to play for Tonga after being sacked by the Australian rugby union team for expressing homophobic views on social media.

The 30-year-old had his contract terminated by Rugby Australia in May after posting a string of homophobic and hateful messages on social media.

Having initially been warned in April 2018 for claiming gay people will go to “Hell...unless they repent of their sins and turn to God”, Folau posted a series of similar messages on Twitter and Instagram a year later.

One Instagram post featured a picture that said “Hell awaits drunks, homosexuals, adulters, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators”.

Folau launched legal proceedings against Rugby Australia claiming unlawful dismissal on grounds of religious beliefs, having taken his case to the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, where he is seeking an apology, compensation, penalties and the right to play again. The case, which has also been brought against New South Wales rugby after he was sacked by the Waratahs, is expected to run until next year.

But in a development on Monday, the Tongan National Rugby League announced that Folau has been selected to represent the Pacific Island in their upcoming games against Great Britain and Australia in New Zealand.

In a statement released by the Tongan National Rugby League, Folau said: "I don't want to bring any of my personal matters into this and I am grateful that the RLIF [Rugby League International Federation] have endorsed my availability.

"What I will do now is focus on playing great rugby league and do my talking on the field."

It’s expected that John, Folau’s brother, will also play as he quit the Waratahs earlier this year.

TNRL chairman George Koloamatangi added: " I am sure the event managers will be rubbing their hands in expectation of more great international spectacles now that Israel and John have confirmed their availability."

Tonga reached the 2017 World Cup semi-finals, losing narrowly to England, but are currently involved in a dispute with their leading players over the departure of head coach Kristian Wolf, who will take over at St Helens in 2020.

Former Wigan, Widnes and New Zealand boss Frank Endacott has been appointed as Wolf's successor and he said he was thrilled at the prospect of coaching the Folau brothers.

"This is great news," said Endacott. "These guys are great footballers and bring size, pace and skill to the team. They will make a huge impact in the team and provide exciting attack options all over the park.

"This will be great boost to the internationals and I can't wait to see the crowd support that this will generate from our famous Mate Ma'a Tonga supporters.

"And it is good to see the RLIF approving these players for internationals. This is great for the game."

Folau last played rugby league in 2010, and had already been told by Australia’s National Rugby League that he would not be granted a contract with any of their teams.

It means that Folau is not able to play in Tonga’s upcoming World Nines campaign as it is run by the NRL, but he is free to play in Test matches and is expected to line up against Great Britain on 26 October in Hamilton, before facing Australia a week later in Auckland.

Folau has agreed to play rugby league for Tonga

Folau represented Australia in rugby league eight times between 2007 and 2009, before a shot-lived spell in Australian Rules Football preceded his move to rugby union. Folau won 62 caps for the Wallabies between 2013 and 2019, but was sacked three months before head coach Michael Cheika announced his Rugby World Cup squad, costing the team their best player for the ongoing tournament in Japan.

He was born in Minto, New South Wales, but qualifies to play for the Pacific Island through his Tongan parents Eni and Amelia.

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