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Israel Folau: St George Illawarra Dragons in talks over NRL return for controversial Catalans Dragons star

Israel Folau in talks over NRL return with St George Illawarra Dragons on two-year deal; 31-year-old is contracted with Catalans Dragons through 2021 season; Folau's return would have to be approved by Australian Rugby League Commission

Israel Folau
Image: Israel Folau joined Catalans Dragons last year

NRL club St George Illawarra Dragons are in talks with Israel Folau over a return to Australia for the controversial star.

St George are understood to have been speaking with the 31-year-old since before Christmas, and are believed to have offered him a two-year deal.

Folau, who is currently with Catalans Dragons and has a year remaining on his contract, has been in Australia since returning to his homeland with his wife and newborn baby at the end of the 2020 Super League season.

St George chief executive Ryan Webb told NRL's official website: "We're definitely interested and we're talking to Israel.

"Now we're working with the NRL to allay any concerns on registering a contract for him. We understand there will be a range of opinions in regards to this decision but we believe he would be a good addition to our club."

If Folau is to sign for St George, seven members of the Australian Rugby League Commission would have to decide whether to allow his return to the NRL.

The commission previously blocked an attempted return as they deemed Folau to have failed to meet the league's "inclusiveness culture".

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Folau's deeply religious beliefs have polarised opinions across sport. He joined the Catalans ahead of the 2020 season, despite opposition from both Super League and a majority of clubs who were concerned over views he had expressed on subjects like homophobia.

Australia's Wallabies' player Israel Folau  runs with the ball during the first rugby test match against the British and Irish Lions in Brisbane, Australia, Saturday, June 22, 2013. The Lions won the match 23-21.(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Image: Folau was sacked by Rugby Australia in 2019 because of his controversial views

Folau's contract with Rugby Australia was terminated in 2019 after he said "hell awaits" gay people in a social media post. He subsequently took legal action and reached a settlement.

He was thrown a lifeline by the Dragons and, after scoring on his Super League debut last February, played a key role as they reached the play-off semi-finals.

The Rugby Football League reluctantly agreed to register Folau after receiving assurances from both the player and the Catalans over his future behaviour and St George's proposal to the NRL contains strict stipulations around public and social media comments.

Pride in Sport, an organisation that supports Australian sporting bodies and clubs on inclusion, said they would expect St George to have a zero-tolerance policy on discrimination if Folau joins.

"NRL is a code that prides itself as being a sport for everyone with strong values of diversity and inclusion," Pride In Sport Index co-founder Andrew Purchas said in a statement. "History has shown Folau's repeated failures to abide by sporting inclusion policies despite assurances."

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said the governing body would meet fans and sponsors as part of its due diligence process before Folau's potential return.

Regarding Folau's potential departure from the team, Catalans coach Steve McNamara said: "I'm in constant dialogue with Izzy. Nothing has changed on that front for either of us. We are in constant dialogue over the whole situation."

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