Fresh legal action launched in huge twist to Israel Folau saga

Tongan officials hoping to launch Israel Folau's rugby league comeback have announced they're taking legal action after they were suspended by the international governing body.

The news emerged after the NRL said it had withdrawn Tonga's invitation to the World Cup Nines in October but it was working to ensure a Mate Ma'a team contested the tournament.

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The Rugby League International Federation on Thursday voted to suspend the Tongan National Rugby League's membership, siding with the country's players and the Pacific Island nation's government.

They hoped to announce an interim board in the coming days, expected to be the Tongan Sports Council.

The dramatic move came after Tongan Prime Minister Semisi Sika wrote to the RLIF to say the TNRL had lost the support of the government, the country's players and clubs.

Tonga's pursuit of Israel Folau has hit a roadblock, with a legal stoush brewing between officials and the Rugby League International Federation. (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

However, the dumped officials who had announced they would pick Folau for Tonga's end-of-year Tests against Great Britain and Australia claimed they had launched court proceedings to challenge their suspension and reclaim control of the national team.

They said they were the victims of "unfair treatment" and the Tongan Sports Council was interfering with the operation of a sporting organisation.

"Not only has the legislation of this country been ignored but the right and interests of the TNRL have been disregarded," a TNRL statement said.

"It would appear that very little consideration was given to the fact that Sika was a former disgraced TNRL president in two previous court proceedings ... where his last board of the TNRL was dismissed for misconduct by the Supreme Court of Tonga on November 16, 2018.

"Not only did Sika act with complete bias but made false statements to the RLIF which has not been investigated before the decision to suspend the TNRL."

NRL throw support behind Tongan players

In another twist, NRL CEO Todd Greenberg said they supported the RLIF's call to suspend the Tongan officials and had withdrawn the Mate Ma'a's Nines invitation.

However, Greenberg said they were working hard to ensure a Tongan team contested the tournament.

He said the Rugby League Players Association had written to the RLIF to provide a list of Tongan players who would be comfortable playing for a Mate Ma'a team overseen by an interim board.

"We want the best Tongan team playing in the World Nines," Greenberg said in a statement.

"It is clear the current board does not have the support of its national government or its best players.

"We are working with the RLIF to recognise an alternate structure that provides an opportunity for Tonga to field its best team.

"We support Tonga's NRL players and want to see them representing their great rugby league nation."

Greenberg said the NRL's decision to withdraw the TNRL's Nines invitation had been backed by the RLIF.

Earlier, Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Beattie denied the decision to suspend Tonga's international membership was based on an attempt to block Folau's return.

"Israel Folau's name wasn't even mentioned. because this has never been about him. It's been about resolving this internal dispute in Tonga," Beattie said.

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