Israel Folau’s return to rugby league is the story that just won’t die.
Despite the emphatic public outcry when St George Illawarra tested the waters earlier this year, there’s a growing number of people willing to speak out in support of the 32-year-old returning to the game that made him a star.
Each day it seems there’s another name — big or small — advocating for Folau’s return.
On Thursday, Brisbane skipper Alex Glenn said he would love to see the former Bronco return to the club where he played two seasons in 2009-10.
“Everyone makes mistakes and everyone is judging him about his opinions, but if you go back to his days playing rugby league he was unbelievable,” Glenn said.
“If he was to come to the Broncos it would be unbelievable. It would be unreal to get him back in the game.”
The next day former Prime Minister John Howard described the loss of Folau from Australian rugby as a “great shame”.
“It was difficult, and I know it was … a sensitive issue, but it was a great shame that we lost Israel Folau,” Howard told The Australian’s Breakdown podcast.
“It was a great shame that arguably the (player) some people regarded as the best player in the code anywhere at that particular time; we lost him. It was terrible. One way or another it was a great pity that it happened, but it happened.”
And if you care to visit the comments section on certain Facebook pages you’ll find a groundswell of public support for the former Maroons and Kangaroos star to be afforded the same second chance so many others in rugby league have been given.
NRL boss Peter V’landys also declared this week Folau would be “given every opportunity” to revive his career.
“If some NRL club wants to put an application in for Israel Folau, that’s when the questions (of him playing NRL again) will be really answered,” V’landys said.
“I don’t know if we can say for sure he will be registered because no NRL club has submitted an application for him to be considered.
“If someone wants to sign Israel Folau, the Commission will consider their application.
“At the moment, it’s hypothetical until (an NRL club) comes forward.
“Israel Folau will be given every opportunity like any other person. We believe in due process.”
But the Dragons’ experience, which saw the club backflip on its plans to sign Folau after a tsunami of criticism, will make any new suitor gun-shy.
So there’s one final step he must take. The Australian’s Brent Read believes Folau must begin publicly campaigning if he wants to return.
“Folau is still tarnished by his social media comments and the way he left rugby union. He needs to change the narrative and the only way he can do that is by addressing the matter with a public mea culpa of sorts,” Read wrote.
“Silence isn’t the answer. It certainly hasn’t worked so far. The Dragons skipped town when the heat was applied and while the NRL has said they would consider his return, there is no real appetite for it at Rugby League Central.
Israel Folau is tackled while playing for Catalans Dragons against St Helens. (Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)Source:Getty Images
“Folau has done little of a public nature to help his cause. He hasn’t shown remorse, he hasn’t spoken about how he will ensure there is no repeat of his previous social media diatribes.
“He and his legal team may view it as going through the right channels, but those channels at the moment have little interest in rubber stamping a contract with his signature.”
If he’s unwilling to go down that path a return to French team Catalans, where he spent last year, remains a possibility.
The club allowed Folau to remain in Australia so he and his wife can support his sick mother-in-law but said “we still anticipate he’s going to return at some point”.
“When, we’re not sure,” Chan said. “At the moment, we don’t want to put any more pressure on him than he’s got already at home so we’ll just keep moving and prepare for our season.”
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