Folau’s path to World Cup resurrection
Israel Folau is set to reignite his international sporting career by playing for Tonga at next year's Rugby League World Cup.
Tongan team spokesman and cultural leader John Hopoate revealed that coach Kristian Woolf has spoken to the sacked Wallabies star and indicated he will be in their squad for RLWC 2021 if his form warrants.
Folau took a confidential settlement from Rugby Australia in January, believed to be $4 million, following a lengthy legal battle regarding his social media posts about homosexuals that saw his contract terminated.
He has since joined French Super League club Catalans, after signing a contract with strict conditions around his social media posts, and showed glimpses of his trademark attacking flair before COVID-19 put a halt to the season.
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The league World Cup will be played in England in October-November 2021, and Folau is set to come up against the Kangaroos jersey he represented from 2007-09.
"The coach, Kristian Woolf, has made contact with him and let him know that if he's playing good enough he will be in our team," Hopoate told The Lockdown With Big Fiddy podcast, hosted by Fidel Tukel.
It would be a dramatic international sporting resurrection for Folau, who missed out on last year's Rugby World Cup and played the last of his 73 Tests for the Wallabies in November 2018, coincidentally in England.
Hopoate said Folau's controversial religious posts could have been handled better by the triple-code star.
"We've got nothing against Izzy, everyone has their own beliefs," Hopoate said.
"I think he did it the wrong way, I've got a lot of gay family and gay friends, I don't give a crap which way you bat."
After his sacking by RA, Folau sought a return to the NRL, but the organisation made it clear to clubs they would not register him due to his divisive beliefs.
Super League had also expressed reservations but were powerless to stop the privately-owned Catalans from signing Folau on a one-year deal. So far, Folau has honoured his deal by refraining from posting more controversial material on social media.
Hopoate, known for his own controversies during colourful league and boxing careers, said the International Rugby League had indicated Tonga would have no objections for picking Folau.
"It comes under the international game, the IRL, they said he's allowed to play,' Hopoate said.
"If he is playing good enough he will come into the team.
"But he's not going to walk straight into the team, we've just come off an Australian win, so these guys who have stuck strong by us in the last couple of years will get the first opportunity.
"If someone gets injured, or if Israel's playing too good where we had to pick him, then yes he's going to get picked.
"But in saying that he has to beat these other guys that have been there before him and have stuck their necks out for Tonga and said no to New Zealand and Australia.
"But we're not going to say no to him."
Tonga, led by Jason Taumalolo, will be one the major threats at the World Cup after pulling off huge upset wins over Australia and Great Britain last year.
Originally published as Folau's path to World Cup resurrection