Rugby-Folau set for Australia return in amateur rugby league

SYDNEY, May 21 (Reuters) - Israel Folau is set to make his return to the field in Australia in amateur rugby league in Queensland next week, two years after he was sacked by Rugby Australia for social media posts deemed discriminatory by rugby union’s governing body.

Subject to Queensland Rugby League (QRL) approval, the dual code international will play with his two brothers for the Southport Tigers in the Gold Coast amateur competition with the backing of team patron, mining magnate Clive Palmer.

Billionaire Palmer said he would fund legal action in support of Folau should the QRL refuse to approve the 32-year-old’s player registration.

“My commitment to Israel Folau to ensure that he can play football again is rock solid,” he told a news conference in Brisbane on Friday.

“I would pledge every cent, every dollar, and every waking moment of my time to ensure that he takes the field again.”

Folau played rugby league for Australia before a switch to Australian Rules in 2011, jumping codes once again to rugby union in 2013 and quickly establishing himself as a potent attacking weapon for the Wallabies.

The fundamentalist Christian had his Wallabies and Super Rugby deals terminated in 2019, however, after he posted a meme that said hell awaited “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers” and others.

He took legal action against Rugby Australia demanding A$14 million ($10.73 million) in compensation but the case was settled out of court with Folau receiving an undisclosed sum.

Asked about the social media post on Friday, Folau said he stood by “the Bible and what the Bible says, every written word that’s written in that book, I stand by that and that’s all I’ll say about that”.

“At the moment I’m just excited about joining Southport and playing alongside my brothers, that’s something I’ve never done in my career,” he added.

Folau played for one season in France with the Catalan Dragons before quitting the Super League club and returning to Australia with his family at the end of last year.

A return to the National Rugby League (NRL) with the St George Illawarra Dragons was scuppered in February after news of negotiations sparked a backlash from LGBT rights groups, some fans and sponsors. (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)