Israel Folau has signed up to play for a second-tier Australian rugby league team in his latest bid to end a sporting exile sparked by his homophobic social media posts.
The former rugby union international told a press conference he planned to start playing next week for the Southport Tigers, a small Queensland team sponsored by controversial mining billionaire Clive Palmer.
But his registration as a player has yet to be approved by the Queensland Rugby League.
Folau, 32, was sacked by Rugby Australia in May 2019 for a homophobic social media post saying that “hell awaits” gay people and others he considers sinners.
At Friday’s press conference alongside Palmer, Folau was unrepentant about his past statements.
‘No regrets at all in life… from, you know, my faith in God everything happens for a reason,’ he said. ‘I’m just grateful for that opportunity to get back on the field.’
Folau is set to play alongside his two brothers for the Gold Coast-based Southport Tigers.
Queensland Rugby League said it was still considering his application for registration.
Although he has not met with the National Rugby League to discuss a possible return to the competition, Folau said he was open to it.
When questioned about his social media posts, he said he stood by the Bible.
‘Every written word that’s written in that book, I stand by that.’
The Australian Rugby League Commission has previously suggested it would not allow Folau to return to the league, with chairman Peter V’landys saying he wanted an inclusive game.
But Palmer, a failed populist political figure in Australia, said he backed Folau ‘100 percent’ and threatened legal action against anyone who might ‘challenge him illegally’.
‘If they want to say things about him which are not right, just watch out,’ Palmer, who also used to play for Southport, said.
The Queensland businessman is as familiar with the courts as he is with television cameras, most recently losing a legal battle with heavy metal band Twisted Sister after ripping off their hit ‘We’re not gonna take it’ in a political ad.
Folau was a star NRL player early in his career, then switched to rugby union after an unsuccessful stint playing Australian Rules.
He scored 37 tries in 73 rugby union Tests before being dumped by Australia in 2019, then returned to the league in February last year in France with the Catalans Dragons.
© Agence France-Presse