Controversial code-hopping footballer Israel Folau is hoping to resurrect his sporting career at an amateur Gold Coast rugby league club.
The former rugby union and rugby league international has signed with Southport Tigers, who play in Gold Coast’s A-Grade rugby league competition with sponsorship from mining magnate Clive Palmer’s Mineralogy company.
The Queensland Rugby League will have to approve Folau’s registration for him to play in the competition however.
“It is clear that Israel is undoubtedly the world’s number one player,” Palmer said in a statement.
“He was unfairly punished and persecuted for his religious beliefs and it is only right that he should return to the game.
“We hope that the Queensland Rugby League will register Israel in accordance with the law.”
The 32-year-old returned to rugby league last year with French club Catalans after stints in AFL and then, more successfully, in rugby union.
St George Illawarra made a bid to bring the former Wallabies star back to the NRL earlier this year before abandoning the move after an intense backlash.
Folau hasn’t played professional sport in Australia since 2019 when his contract with Rugby Australia was terminated after he said “hell awaits” gay people in a social media post.
He subsequently took legal action and reached a settlement before joining Catalans.
The NRL said after the Dragons’ aborted bid that Folau’s path back to the competition would only come if a club made an official application for a contract.
Catalans, where Folau is contracted until the end of 2021, have indicated they will demand compensation if he signs with an Australian club.
A recent online petition from the Australian Christian Lobby garnered 12,000 signatures demanding Folau be allowed to play in the NRL.
Folau played 91 matches for Melbourne and Brisbane in the NRL from 2007 to 2010, representing Queensland and Australia, before signing with AFL expansion side GWS.
After 13 appearances for the Giants in 2012, Folau moved to rugby union, playing 73 Tests for the Wallabies from 2013 to 2019.
The Australian Christian Lobby renewed calls for the controversial footballer be handed an NRL lifeline following his failed attempts to rejoin the game.