An unapologetic Israel Folau says he has no regrets about his controversial religious views as he aims to resurrect his sporting career at an amateur Gold Coast rugby league club, with backing from billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer.
The former rugby union and rugby league international has signed with Southport Tigers, who play in Gold Coast’s A-grade rugby league competition, and will be sponsored by Palmer’s Mineralogy company.
However, Queensland Rugby League will have to approve Folau’s registration for him to play in the competition.
The 32-year-old returned to rugby league last year with French club Catalans Dragons after stints in AFL and then, more successfully, in rugby union. St George Illawarra made a bid to bring the former Wallabies star back to the NRL earlier this year before abandoning the move after intense backlash.
Folau has not played professional sport in Australia since 2019 when his contract with Rugby Australia was terminated after he said “hell awaits” gay people in a social media post.
“I tell you what I do stand for,” Folau said about his social media posts. “As a Christian, I stand 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.
“I’m just happy to get back on the field and play … 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.”
Palmer, who is the patron of the club, is expecting the QRL to approve Folau’s registration in time for a clash with Burleigh Bears on 29 May.
“I’ll be very surprised if he’s not registered, and I certainly would support him 100 per cent with all the funds, all the resources, all the skill that I possess to ensure that he’s treated fairly, like all Australians,” Palmer said, promising he would take legal action if Folau’s registration is knocked back.
“Make no mistake about that. My commitment to Israel Folau to ensure that he can play football again is rock solid. I would pledge every cent, every dollar, and every waking moment of my time to ensure that he takes the field again.”
Two of Folau’s brothers, John and Eni, already play for the Tigers and Palmer says it was their suggestion which opened the door to their sibling.
Folau refused to speculate on whether his overall ambition was to return to the NRL, with St George Illawarra having already aborted a bid to sign him after an intense public backlash. After reaching a legal settlement with Rugby Australia following his sacking, Folau joined French-based Super League club Catalans.
Palmer said any claim to compensation from Catalans was void as they had failed to honour the terms of Folau’s contract with the club. He also dismissed concern Folau’s signing would bring scorn to Southport.
“Let’s go to the game,” he said. “Let’s see what the fans say.”
A recent online petition from the Australian Christian Lobby garnered 12,000 signatures demanding Folau be allowed to play in the NRL.
Folau played 91 matches for Melbourne and Brisbane in the NRL from 2007 to 2010, representing Queensland and Australia, before signing with AFL expansion side Greater Western Sydney.
After 13 appearances for the Giants in 2012, Folau moved to rugby union, playing 73 Tests for the Wallabies from 2013 to 2019.