Catalans Dragons have dismissed rumours that Israel Folau is eyeing up a shock return to rugby union after he failed to return to the French club after Christmas.
Folau returned home to Australia at the end of the 2020 Super League season with his wife and new-born baby.
'I'VE QUIT DRINKING': Erin Molan's late-night call to NSW Premier
However the 31-year-old has yet to report back to the French club, prompting speculation that the former Wallabies star will not honour his contract, which he extended to the end of 2021 last July.
Dragons coach Steve McNamara has told the PA news agency he has kept in regular dialogue with Folau, who remains committed to the club.
McNamara said Folau simply needs to remain in Australia for personal reasons as well as restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“He's got a family situation and we’re working together on that,” McNamara said.
“We're constantly speaking, we’re monitoring the situation as best we can.”
In a statement, the club also said: “The club and Israel Folau have been in constant dialogue since Christmas regarding a personal family situation.
“This, along with Covid restrictions, are currently preventing his return to France.”
Rugby publication Midi Olympique claimed Folau is being closely monitored by several French rugby clubs, with a view to enticing him back to the 15-a-side game.
The French outlet named Toulon and Bayonne as the two clubs most heavily-linked with signing Folau once his deal with Catalans runs out.
Israel Folau endures turbulent few years
The centre initially joined Catalans on a 12-month deal, despite opposition from both Super League and a majority of clubs who were concerned over views he had expressed on subjects like homophobia.
Folau’s contract with Rugby Australia was terminated in 2019 after he said “hell awaits” gay people in a social media post.
He subsequently took legal action and reached a settlement.
Racing 92 star Simon Zebo has previously spoken out in unflattering terms about the prospect of playing against Folau in rugby union.
“If he is playing opposite me there is nothing I can do. I wouldn’t let my team down by not playing,” Zebo said on RugbyPass Offload.
“I have no time for (Folau’s beliefs), no time for any of his thoughts or things like that. It’s an unbelievably backward type of mentality.
“It’s such a shame. He’s such a talented guy, a really, really good player but I personally have a serious issue with that. There’s racism, there’s homophobia – these are things that I hold on the same level.
“I have three kids now and if all three of them decided to be gay when they grow up, me and him are going to have serious issues because having a father who plays rugby, they will know who Israel Folau is and they will see all these things – you know the way social media is in this day and age.”
Folau was thrown a lifeline by the Dragons and, after scoring on his Super League debut last February, played a key role as they reached the play-off semi-finals.
The Catalans players have yet to report back for training after the schedule was put on hold due to heightened COVID-19 restrictions.
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.