Folau did it all in his relatively short NRL career.
Folau did it all in his relatively short NRL career.

Folau’s desperate move to ignite NRL career

ISRAEL Folau could reignite his sporting career in the NRL by offering unprecedented vetting of his social media activity.

In a desperate bid to save his rugby career last month, Folau offered Rugby Australia the chance to view all his future religious social media posts before publication, and undergo specific training with a religious leader, but was sacked and lost his $5 million, four-year contract.

Folau would offer the same concessions to the NRL if it changes its stance and reconsiders allowing him to return to the code he made his professional debut in 12 years ago.

However, influential NRL figures confirmed to The Daily Telegraph that Folau would not be considered for registration while his controversial Instagram post on homosexuals and other sinners going to hell remains up.

Folau did it all in his relatively short NRL career.
Folau did it all in his relatively short NRL career.

Folau believes if he removes the post, he himself will go to hell, creating a stalemate.

But the icebreaker in this situation would rely on the training Folau is willing to undergo with religious leaders.

Folau has already met with one such leader, seeking guidance on how to continue to express his deep Christian beliefs while also protecting any employer from financial and reputational damage.

He offered to continue this training, and allow RA to read religious posts that he intended on posting prior to publication, in a final attempt to salvage his contract.

However, RA rejected Folau's appeal because he was not willing to remove the April 10 post that was deemed a high-level breach of the professional players' code of conduct.

Also, Folau could not promise that if RA asked him not to publish material they believed could cause them further harm, he would indeed backtrack. Folau believed he was compelled by God to make that infamous post last month and if compelled in future, he would post again.

So now the 30-year-old must decide whether he quits sport altogether to take legal action against RA and then commence a full-time career as a religious pastor, or pull back from his unwavering stance to take down the post.

He is weighing this up.

 

NRL HOMECOMING

It's understood that more than one NRL club has made discreet inquiries as to whether Folau is keen on a return.

Folau wants to continue a professional sporting career, but does not want to compromise his faith.

His willingness to allow RA to view future social media posts was a huge step forward for Folau's rigid stance.

One source close to the situation believes that with significant training, Folau may one day be convinced to remove the post and apply for NRL registration. Another says he never will, and if the NRL maintains that position, he will forego any future sporting career and focus on his church.

 

Folau scored five tries in five games for Queensland. Picture: Peter Wallis
Folau scored five tries in five games for Queensland. Picture: Peter Wallis

 

What is certain is that there is conflict within Folau, one of the most gifted athletes to ever emerge in Australia, now suddenly without a field to ply his trade.

There has already been approach to Folau from a European rugby club but he has no interest in moving that far abroad. Japan is an option, but his preference would be to return to the NRL, where he exploded onto the national scene in 2007 with Melbourne Storm.

This development comes as it can also be revealed that RA's new director of rugby, Scott Johnson, played a key role in talking Wallaby stars out of boycotting Test matches in support of Folau.

The idea was discussed between close friends of Folau in the Wallabies' set-up as a show of solidarity for their outcast mate.

Ultimately, Johnson and RA chief executive Raelene Castle contacted the players and reminded them of their duties under their playing contracts, while also assuring them that the organisation was not attempting to suppress their religious beliefs, only avoid expression similar to Folau's that would send the game broke.

 

Folau won eight caps for Australia.
Folau won eight caps for Australia.

 

The Folau issue was discussed at the recent Wallabies camp in Brisbane, however it was done in splinter groups rather than as a collective. This is done so that quieter members of the team do not feel as though they're being shouted down by more vocal teammates.

However, some believe the wounds of Folau's axing remain festering and need further addressing before the Test season begins.

Many players of Christian background still remain aggrieved that RA decided to support the "yes" vote on gay marriage in 2017 without consulting them.

"We wouldn't have asked them to change their mind, it just would have been nice to get a heads up before seeing the rainbow colours on the Wallabies' Twitter logo," one player said.

Highlighting the differences within the Wallabies set-up, a WhatsApp group titled "The Jokers" has been set up in recent years including only Pacific Island members of the team.

It was not set up to divide, but because those players generally feel more comfortable in each others' company and socialise together on tours.

 

Folau left Brisbane to join AFL club GWS Giants. Picture: Adam Head
Folau left Brisbane to join AFL club GWS Giants. Picture: Adam Head

 

It's understood David Pocock is the only non-Polynesian Wallaby who attends weekly prayer meetings during trips away.

Highlighting the divide on the Folau issue even among the Pacific Island Wallaby players - one of them has a gay sibling - a separate, smaller WhatsApp group was recently set up for those who supported Folau and his public views.

It was on this chat group that the idea of boycotting Test matches emerged.

Johnson was crucial to alleviating some of their concerns and aborting any boycott, which would only have caused further division and angst in Australian rugby.

 

TALK IT OUT

One of Folau's former Waratahs teammates said this year's controversy could have been avoided if the right steps were taken last April, following his first social media furore.

"When someone stuffs up off the field, a big thing for us is that they have to sit in front of the entire playing group and explain themselves," he said.

"They make an apology, talk about what happened, answer any questions the guys have.

"That never happened with Izzy last year. He never fronted the entire group and explained where he was coming from or had questions thrown at him.

"We spoke about it once when it happened and it was like, 'OK, now let's move on'. But it doesn't work like that when you're talking about peoples' beliefs.

"I don't think we'd be here if there was a group of us that sat down and spoke to Izzy last year.

"Michael Hooper sat down with him one-on-one, off his own bat, and I really respect that about Hoops.

"I just wish we could have had a big group talk to him as well, I think Izzy would have got a message that probably would have made him think twice about what he posted this time."

When news emerged on May 17 that Folau's contract had been terminated, several of his rugby mates were left devastated, and even some of his critics would have been willing to play alongside him again if the decision had been the opposite.

The following evening, the Waratahs and Queensland faced each other in Super Rugby.

Four NSW and 15 Reds players met in the Suncorp Stadium tunnel before the match, knelt arm in arm and had a prayer sermon.

"It was just joyous," one of the players in the huddle said.

"After all that had happened with Izzy, it was extremely comforting to come together and feel extremely close to God.

"A lot of people think Islander players are dumb because we're generally quiet, but don't mistake our silence for weakness.

"We do have a lot to offer, but we also do have to be better at expressing ourselves, and hopefully this can lead to a change for the next generation."

A big step forward will be the faith review announced by the Rugby Union Players' Association, to be undertaken after the Super season and taking in the beliefs and opinions of all Australian players.


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