Maria Folau has spoken out about husband Israel’s controversial move to the English Super League.
Israel scored a try after just six minutes and managed to get his Super League debut out of the way amid only minor controversy as he helped Catalans to a 36-18 win over Castleford in Perpignan on Saturday.
Home fans in the crowd of 8886 chanted "Izzy! Izzy!" when Folau, playing in the centres, scored a trademark leaping try from a Josh Drinkwater cross kick and was mobbed by his teammates.
There were plenty of media on hand to witness the first game for the ex-rugby union international, who was sacked by Rugby Australia for his homophobic comments on social media and whose switch to European rugby league outraged many in the game.
One of those in attendance was Maria Folau, who said the couple were grateful for the career lifeline.
“Glad he got his first game of rugby league under his belt in a very long time and look, we just praise God every day for this wonderful opportunity,” Maria told Seven News on Sunday.
“He played so well,” she also told Nine News.
“Not just myself but even his family were extremely nervous about how today was going to go.
“I’m just so blessed that he was out there to play the game that he grew up loving and we’re so blessed to have this opportunity to be here in the south of France.”
Fan claims ‘disgusting’ treatment during Folau protest
Castleford fan Alison Grey said she was asked to take down a rainbow flag - a symbol of the LGBTQ movement - during the game and was told it was against the views of the club.
However, Catalans later issued a statement saying that was not club policy and it would look into the incident.
At the end of the match, 30-year-old Folau held up his hands to the crowd in appreciation before stopping to take selfies and chat with supporters.
The next big test is to see how Folau is received when Catalans travel to England for their next match, against Hull on March 1, as supporters of other clubs have promised to protest.
Dragons coach Steve McNamara said he was pleased with the way his players coped with the additional pressure caused by the attention on Folau.
"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," he said.
I was twice asked to remove it. Firstly as I was told it was against health and safety. Secondly because it is against club policy— Alison Grey (@AlisonGrey91) February 15, 2020
McNamara was reluctant to debate the issue of Folau's signing.
"Is he a good person? Is he a good player? Will he add value to the team, on and off the field, not judging on any political or religious belief that he's got?" McNamara said.
"We will not repeat anything that we've (already) said, whether you (the media) like that or not ... We've said quite clearly we don't agree with (Folau's views). We've said that. Well, that's it."
He added: "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."
While Folau hogged the headlines, England fullback Sam Tomkins scored three tries for the Dragons while veteran Australian five-eighth James Maloney ran the show, created a try and kicked six goals.
Also a new arrival from Australia this season, Maloney claimed to be oblivious to the fuss around Folau.
"I think that you guys (the media) make a bigger deal out of it than we do. He's just another player that's come in and fit into the squad," Maloney said,
"At least for me, personally, I don't see the fuss. Because I can't understand the news and I can't read the newspapers. So I just look at my business."