Israel Folau has had an explosive clash with a journalist at a media conference on Friday to announce his comeback to rugby league – thanks to the backing of billionaire businessman Clive Palmer.
Folau, who lost his lucrative contract with the Australian Rugby Union over controversial anti-gay social media posts, confirmed on Friday that he has joined the Southport Tigers, a team in the local Gold Coast Rugby League where his two younger brothers play.
The press conference, which began with Folau, 32, thanking ‘Lord and saviour Jesus Christ’ for the opportunity to play, quickly turned to the player’s controversial views.
‘I stand as a Christian, I stand by the Bible and what the Bible says. Every written word that’s in that book I stand by that,’ he said in a terse response to a question asking if he maintained the views that cost him his Wallabies career.
‘It’s clear, I stand by what it says. You’ve got to read the Bible in context. Have you read the Bible?’ Folau asked the reporter, who replied ‘Yes’ only for Palmer to cut off the former Origin star.
The pair were then asked about Southport’s team song, which according to Seven journalist Bianca Stone features the lyrics ‘we want lesbians on our faces’.
‘I’ve just signed with the club. I have no idea about what the song is,’ Folau replied.
‘I’ve been a player and been there for 50 years and I haven’t heard it,’ Palmer added, describing the question as a media ‘beat-up’.
Clive Palmer says he wants to help the ‘best rugby league or rugby union player in the world’ Israel Folau as he links up with the controversial star to bring him back to playing football
When asked if he shared Folau’s anti-same-sex ideology, Palmer said he ‘didn’t know what his views were’ and hinted at mounting a legal challenge against his bans from respective codes
‘It sounds like a beat-up and someone’s given you that. I just don’t think it’s true. I can say as a player who played as Tigers.
‘I was in the dressing room last Sunday and they weren’t singing the song then. I think it’s sensationalism.’
Folau has been banned from playing professional sport by a number of bodies including the Australian Rugby League and Australian Rugby Union for his outspoken comments.
When asked if he shared Folau’s views, Palmer said he ‘didn’t know what his views were’ and hinted at mounting a legal challenge against his bans from respective codes.
‘All I know is he’s placed on Twitter a quote from the Bible. I know the Bible is used every day, quoted across Australia for millions of Australians,’ Palmer said to reporters.
‘I know when we go to parliament many parliamentarians refer to texts in the Bible. I know when you go to court you swear by putting your hand on the Bible.
‘It’s nothing extraordinary someone makes a quote from the Bible.’
Folau refused to comment directly on the homophobic social media posts that saw him kicked out of his rugby union contracts, saying he ‘stands by everything written in the Bible’
Palmer said Folau would have ‘every cent, every dollar, every waking minute of (Palmer’s) time’ if anyone tried to stop him playing for Southport or frustrate his future ambitions to return to the NRL.
‘We want an example where people of all faiths can play sport. Religious freedom is a fundamental right in this country,’ he said.
‘I’ve got some resources and if it got down to a legal battle I’m sure anyone opposing somebody on the basis of religious persecution would go down very seriously and pay damages. There’s no legal basis to not register him, he’s been cleared by the Broncos.’
Palmer says ‘religious freedom in this country is a fundamental right’ and said Folau would have ‘every cent, every dollar, every waking minute of his time’ if there were any legal objection to him playing for Southport
Folau will debut alongside his brothers next week against Southport’s rivals Burleigh Heads next week. He completed his first training session with the Tigers on Thursday
Palmer, who himself used to play for the Southport Tigers, said professional sporting codes have ‘no legal basis’ for stopping him playing and lamented that rugby league’s values were being ‘lost’ as a result of pressure from sponsors.
‘My company has signed an agreement with Israel only for the Tigers as far as club football is concerned this year. As we know Israel is the best rugby player in the world, be it league or union. His record is second to none.’
Folau will debut alongside his brothers next week against Southport’s rivals Burleigh Heads next week. He completed his first training session with the Tigers on Thursday.
Folau said he doesn’t know which position he will play but Palmer wants him at fullback where he starred for the Waratahs and Wallabies.
Israel Folau (pictured left) is set to return to rugby league with the backing of billionaire Clive Palmer
Folau (pictured, right) has been trying to return to the NRL in recent months after the St George Illawarra Dragons withdrew its application to sign the former footy star
The mining magnate is a patron of the Southport team and played wing for the club in the 1970s.
The Leader of the United Australia Party also reportedly took out a front page advertisement in the paper that stated ‘Let Israel Folau play football’.
Folau, who played professionally for France-based Catalans Dragons in the British Super League after being dismissed from the Wallabies, has been trying to return to the NRL.
St George Illawarra Dragons flagged its intention to sign him but withdrew its application amid fierce backlash from sponsors and some fans.
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo previously said the decision of the Queensland Rugby League – which runs the Gold Coast league – to sign Folau was ‘not a matter for me to comment on’.
‘The QRL has an autonomous board and their own processes for registration,’ Mr Abdo said at the time.
‘I’m not going to comment on their decision on whether or not a club puts forward a registration for him to play.’
‘Israel Folau isn’t looking for pocket money to play Intrust Super Cup,’ he said.
‘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.’
Folau was sacked by Rugby Australia in 2019 over a social media post that said ‘hell awaits drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators’.
The former Wallabies star sued Rugby Australia and reportedly got a multi-million dollar payout when the two parties reached an out-of-court settlement.
Folau (pictured right) was sacked by Rugby Australia in 2019 over homophobic social media posts