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Explosive war erupts over Folau’s NRL return

A war has erupted over Israel Folau after the NRL was accused of trying to handball the controversial cross-code star's rugby league return to Queensland officials.

Queensland Rugby League chairman Bruce Hatcher hit back at NRL CEO Andrew Abdo's claims the game was powerless to stop Folau from playing in the Intrust Super Cup.

After being sacked by Rugby Australia in 2019 following a series of social media posts, Folau signed with French Super League club Catalans.

The former Queensland Origin and Kangaroos star did not return to Catalans this year, reportedly due to family reasons.

Folau is living in Brisbane and has been spotted training in gyms on the southside as he holds out hope of being allowed to play in the NRL.

The NRL has distanced itself from making a call on Folau by claiming a club would have to register a contract before the game decides whether he will be allowed to play.

Speculation is swirling that Folau could look for a soft relaunch to his league career by playing in the Intrust Super Cup, however no Queensland club is yet to approach the QRL.

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Abdo told The Courier-Mail the NRL had no power to veto Folau's potential return to league in Queensland's top competition.

"That's not a matter for me to comment on, the QRL has an autonomous board and their own processes for registration," he said.

"I'm not going to comment on their decision on whether or not a club puts forward a registration for him to play.

"It's not in our jurisdiction to do that (stop Folau). That's a decision for whichever Queensland State Cup club that puts forward a recommendation and for the QRL board to consider."

However Abdo's stance has been met with a stinging rebuke by Hatcher.

"He said it's up to the QRL, well it's not up to us," Hatcher said.

"Israel Folau isn't looking for pocket money to play Intrust Super Cup. If he were to be allowed back into playing the elite level of the game then that to me is an NRL issue. We look after Origin, not NRL club decisions.

"You would save yourself a lot of time or effort if the decision is made at the national level of the game because that's where he will be targeting to play.

"It's an absurd statement because I wouldn't put my board through the pain of considering something that would have ramifications all the way up the game.

"Do you think if we suddenly included him to play for one of our clubs that it wouldn't reverberate around society?

"There is no way he will sign up to play for an Intrust Super Cup club without any aspirations to play NRL."

Folau, 32, is one of the most divisive characters in Australian sport.

He is undoubtedly one of the country's greatest ever athletes, having played in the NRL, AFL, Super Rugby and for the Wallabies.

But his controversial views on same-sex relationships, and reluctance to be silenced, resulted in him being sacked by RA.

Folau successfully sued RA over his sacking and received a seven-figure payout while the Australian Christian Lobby last week launched a campaign calling for his return to the NRL.

Hatcher said the NRL and Australian Rugby League Commission should make a call on Folau.

"I don't see it being a QRL matter," he said.

 

Karl Stefanovic slams NRL over possible Israel Folau return (Today): Karl Stefanovic is “appalled” the NRL would even consider allowing Israel Folau back into the competition.

 

"I wouldn't expect a bloke of his age or experience would want to do anything other than transition from a game we administer to the top level of the game which is administered by the NRL.

"Why wouldn't you save everyone a headache and make a clear-cut decision at the top level?

"For Andrew Abdo to say it's up to us … we haven't been approached and I don't think we'd be prepared to make a decision until the people who run the game at the top level have a view.

"If they are so moved that they wouldn't allow him to play NRL then why would they sanction the QRL to allow him to play Intrust Super Cup? We've also got a reputation to uphold.

"If it was a purely football decision then it's a no-brainer. People love watching him. Unfortunately the decisions you have to make in life are not purely about football.

"I don't think us going out on a limb and making a decision that's inconsistent with the view expressed by senior people in the NRL would serve any purpose.

"Let's save everyone a whole lot of heartbreak."

Originally published as Explosive war erupts over Folau's NRL return