By Daniel Fraser
Israel Folau will return to rugby league at the end of the year, with he and brother John available to play for Tonga in Tests against the Kangaroos and Great Britain Lions, Tonga National Rugby League (TNRL) has announced.
Folau has taken his former employers Rugby Australia (RA) to court seeking A$10 million (NZ$10,080,000) after his contract was torn up in May over a homophobic Instagram post in which he said homosexuals, among other sinners, were going to hell.
The Australian Federal Circuit Court last month encouraged Folau and RA to settle through mediation until December but if that fails, the case will be heard in court in February next year.
Folau, a former Wallaby and Kangaroo, said he was excited by a return to rugby league that will be particularly special given it was representing Mate Ma’a Tonga.
“I don’t want to bring any of my personal matters into this and I am grateful that the IRLF have endorsed my availability,” he said in a TNRL release.
“What I will do now is focus on playing great rugby league and do my talking on the field.”
Neither player is available for the NRL’s International 9’s tournament to be played in Sydney on the weekend of October 19.
“The NRL have supported the action taken by the Australian Rugby Union against Israel and therefore they will not accept his selection for this tournament,” the TNRL said in a statement.
Folau, the husband of Silver Ferns star Maria Folau, said the ongoing dispute between the players and board shouldn’t stop the players from representing Tonga.
TNRL chairman George Koloamatangi said football staff including coach Frank Endacott were speaking with players individually about their availability for the upcoming Oceania Cup matches.
“We will field a great team, I am sure the availability of Israel and John plus the selection of other great players will bring out the fans to show their support in a way that only Tongans can do,” Koloamatangi said.
“Our fans are legendary in international rugby league bathing venues in a sea of red on many occasions.”
Former Kiwis coach Endacott, who was recently announced as Kristian Woolf’s replacement, welcomed the addition of the Folau brothers.
“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,” he said.
“This will be great boost to the internationals, and I cant wait to see the crowd support that this will generate from our famous Mate Ma’a Tonga supporters.
“It is good to see the IRLF approving these players for internationals. This is great for the game.”
John Folau, 24, was released from his contract with the Waratahs earlier this year, having pursued a rugby union career since 2014.
Prior to that he played for the Parramatta Eels NYC team.
The elder Folau scored six tries in eight Tests for the Kangaroos between 2007 and 2009 before leaving rugby league in 2010 to sign with AFL club, the Greater Western Sydney Giants.
He signed for the Waratahs in the 2013 and scored a Super Rugby-record 60 tries in 96 games for the NSW Super franchise as well as 32 tries in 62 Tests for the Wallabies.