Sport Rugby League ‘You don’t know the person’: Israel Folau defended after return to sport

‘You don’t know the person’: Israel Folau defended after return to sport

Folau shows his appreciation to fans in Perpignan, France. Photo: AAP
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Israel Folau marked his return to sport by scoring a try with his first touch in Super League before he was defended by his new coach.

Folau was infamously sacked by Rugby Australia for offensive social media posts in May, but the parties reached a settlement in December and apologised to each other.

Folau then signed with France-based rugby league side Catalans Dragons in January.

Catalans are a member of the Super League – a competition predominantly played in the United Kingdom.

Folau’s signing caused major controversy, but Catalans coach Steve McNamara is adamant “everybody deserves a second chance”.

And Folau grasped that chance on Sunday morning (AEDT), scoring a try on debut in Catalans’ 36-18 win over Castleford.

Catalans fans in Perpignan chanted ‘Izzy, Izzy’ during the match in what was largely a positive welcome for Folau, who also posed for photos with fans after the fixture.

Protesters with rainbow flags were at the match, though, and the Super League is investigating claims fans were told not to display the flags.

McNamara said Folau immediately showed his worth, with the 30-year-old catching a kick from Australian compatriot James Maloney before crossing for a sixth-minute try.

“That’s what we want from Israel – nothing else,” McNamara said.

“We have signed a very talented player and he showed that today. Everybody deserves a second chance.”

Watch Folau’s first Catalans try

McNamara said that while he understood the commotion caused by Folau’s signing, many of those criticising him did not “know the person”.

“The plan all along was to get him on the field and play the game. We’ll look at the way we deal with all the other issues later,” McNamara said.

“When I sign a player, I judge him on his playing abilities, not on his religious or political beliefs.

“I understand the headlines but let him play, let him get on the field and we’ll understand the person a little more after that.

“You know the headline. You don’t know the person.”

The Catalans coach added that he was happy with the way his players had handled the extra spotlight placed on the club in the build-up to Folau’s debut.

“There has been a lot of media attention on the club this week and I am pleased with the way the players went about their job,” he added.

“I just hope we can move on now and just concentrate on the rugby league.

“To have journalists from all around the world descending on this region, chasing players around in cars and following people and all the other bits that go with it – the players have had to deal with that and credit to them.”

Super League ‘investigating’

Claims that fans were asked to remove rainbow flags during the match are reportedly being investigated by the Super League.

BBC reports the league made a brief comment on the matter.

“Everybody should have the right to respectfully express their views,” Super League said.

“We are investigating. We will have more information by Monday.”

‘He’s just another player’: Maloney

Ex-Penrith, Cronulla, Sydney Roosters and New Zealand Warriors star Maloney is also in his first year at Catalans.

The Orange-born Maloney said the language barrier meant that he was not across all the hype surrounding Folau’s signing, but that he was just focusing on his own game.

“I think you guys [media] make a bigger deal out of it than we do,” he said.

“He’s [Folau] just another player that’s come in and fit into the side.

“I suppose for me, personally, being [an] English [speaker] over here, I don’t see any of the buzz because I can’t understand the news and I can’t read the newspapers … I just go about my business.”

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