'Changed their minds': New club's stunning 'backflip' on Israel Folau plans

Sam Goodwin
Sports Editor

Catalans Dragons have reportedly backflipped on a plan to unveil Israel Folau in front of the world’s media.

The Dragons are keeping their new recruit under wraps, fearful of adding flames to the media frenzy caused by his recruitment, with Folau sacked by Rugby Australia last year for making religiously-motivated homophobic comments on social media.

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The French club opted not to play Folau in their Super League season opener over the weekend, and they’ve now backtracked on his planned unveiling.

According to ITV’s Sports Ediror Steve Scott, Catalans had planned to hold a public press conference with Folau front and centre, but will now film it in-house and send it to the media.

“Catalan Dragons have changed their minds about holding a media conference to unveil big new signing Israel Folau,” Scott tweeted on Tuesday.

“Instead they are filming it ‘in-house’ and then distributing to media. Can’t think why.”

Catalans coach Steve McNamara said he’s keen to get Folau into action sooner rather than later following a 32-12 opening round loss to Huddersfield.

Catalans' defence out wide was at fault for several tries by Huddersfield and McNamara believes the Australian dual international will plug some gaps.

"We've made the signing, we've made the statement, there will be further stuff to follow but not right now," McNamara said.

However Catalans have reportedly been left stunned by the negative reaction to Folau’s signing.

According to Total Rugby League, the Dragons “have been left reeling by the media reaction to their decision to rescue Israel Folau” and are shocked by the “chorus of condemnation”.

Israel Folau in the stands during the Netball World Cup. (Photo by Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images)

The Dragons were staying tight-lipped over the weekend about whether Folau had arrived in the south of France.

But rumours were circulating around Stade Gilbert Brutus on Saturday night that the 30-year-old ex-Wallabies star was in town.

Catalans chairman defends Folau signing

Bernard Guasch had previously hailed the controversial signing of Folau as a major "coup" for rugby league.

Guasch told local newspaper L'Independente: "When the moods of each other (side) have subsided, we will judge that this player is perhaps the biggest coup in the history of this sport and of (the club) in France.

"We will then savour the exemplary player he is. I know he will delight the Catalan public.

"We do not share or tolerate his opinions and we are totally committed to making our club and our sport open and welcoming to everyone.

"We think that these kind of remarks should not be expressed publicly, in particular by an athlete of high level.

Israel Folau in action for the Wallabies in 2018. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

"Leaving aside what he said recently, he can become a real example for young people, someone who trains hard and has an impeccable lifestyle and thoroughness. He is a hard worker."

Catalans ignored the warnings of both the Rugby Football League and Super League with their signing of the 30-year-old Folau on a one-year contract.

Guasch's comments came after Keegan Hirst, the only openly gay rugby league professional, called Folau's signing a "slap in the face" for the sport's bid for inclusivity.

"It is really disappointing and very frustrating," Hirst told the BBC.

"Anyone who has a moral compass or values, this is alienating and undermining those people."

with AAP