St George Illawarra fans have taken to social media en masse to express their outrage at news the Dragons are interested in signing controversial star, Israel Folau.
The NRL community was left stunned on Tuesday after it emerged that the Dragons had made enquiries about bringing the 31-year-old former Wallaby back to the sport he made his name in.
‘DISGRACE’: Dragons fans fume over Cameron McInnes exit
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo left the door open for Folau's return after confirming that he would consider a formal application from the Dragons as part of due process.
Folau's controversial past will form part of the considerations should St George Illawarra submit a formal application for him to join the club on a two-year deal.
It's understood Dragons chief executive Ryan Webb and Abdo have had private conversations over several weeks about bringing Folau back to the game in Australia, although no formal application has been submitted.
The NRL has previously indicated the door was shut for the 31-year-old former Queensland and Australia star to make a return.
However, the governing body would legally need to consider any application put forward by the Dragons and assess it on merit.
"Any player or official needs to be registered with the NRL and that process involves a number of diligence matters and that includes an assessment of the individual and that will take place," Abdo said on Tuesday.
"I don't want to pre-empt what may or may not happen, it's pure speculation at the moment because we don't have a formal application, but when someone does make an application, of course there are professional factors that are taken into account and that will include things that have happened, I suppose, throughout his career and all of that needs to be weighed into our decision."
Abdo confirmed NRL sponsorships and the game's fans will also be part of the considerations concerning a possible Folou return.
Judging by the reaction of fans to the Folau news on Tuesday, that could prove a hug stumbling block.
Wollongong City Council Deputy Mayor Tania Brown was among the many Dragons fans incensed by the idea that her club would consider signing Folau - whose homophobic religious views have proved deeply hurtful and polarising for so many.
The Deputy Mayor said it was "time for me to find a new team", with plenty of other Dragons fans signalling that they would rip up their memberships if the club was to sign Folau.
— Tania Brown (@tanbrown1) February 2, 2021
As a @NRL_Dragons supporter for over 60 years I’m appalled at the club’s request. Folau has many beliefs that variously discriminate against many in the fan base. We need talent but not at the price of overt discrimination. He made a mockery of Union. Don’t let us be the next
— 💧Blodwyn (@QuandiGirl22) February 2, 2021
Same here, been a #Dragons Supporter for 49 years, the instant #Folau is signed, I’m tearing up my membership & burning memorabilia. I WILL NOT support a team that signs & supports homophobes & hate speakers.
— MerlinVickisman (@Merlinman10) February 2, 2021
— Ryan O (@RRyandx77) February 2, 2021
I don’t actually think it is but if they put Israel Folau back in the NRL, it makes a statement to every gay supporter and player that they will not be protected by the code and discrimination is ok
— Fiona Newton (@FionaNewton77) February 2, 2021
I am a @NRL_Dragons supporter.
Not passionate, but I do support them. Over the years I’d have been to maybe 50 of their games.
If they recruited Israel Folau I would find it very difficult to keep supporting them.
— Paul Dennett (@the_summer_game) February 2, 2021
First the Cam McInnes departure and now the Dragons are linked with Israel Folau. What a horrendous day to be a Red V supporter.
— Dylan Arvela (@dylanarvela) February 2, 2021
You guys are pathetic how can you let our captain go and now there are reports you want to sign that flop folau seriously you are burying the club and if you sign him thats the last straw im done as a supporter
— Sam (@The5hitGamer) February 2, 2021
My parents brought me up a @NRL_Dragons fan and I’m a NRLW foundation member, but the club are really testing our loyalty.
The fact de Belin still trains with the group is bad enough, and today’s McInnes / Folau news is baffling 😡
Who is behind these appalling decisions? #NRL https://t.co/tYLL2azbR8
— Brittany Carter (@_BrittanyCarter) February 2, 2021
@NRL_Dragons still don’t understand or care why their decision making alienates their fans so much. There’ll be a torrent of criticism incoming over the next few days, which the club will still, no doubt, be unable to accept. #NRL #RugbyLeague #flanagan #mcinnes #folau 🤷🏻♂️
— Yioti Vamvouklis (@YotVam) February 2, 2021
Dragons fans reeling after dramatic day
It was a double blow for many Dragons fans already left reeling by the news skipper Cameron McInnes would be leaving the club at the end of the season to join the Sharks in a four-year deal, said to be worth $2.4 million.
Folau has been playing rugby league for Catalans in the Super League and signed a one-year extension with them in July last year.
However, the controversial former rugby union star has been in Australia over the summer for family reasons.
It's believed St George Illawarra would follow the same process as the Catalans if they were to draft a contract, which would see Folau bound by strict social media clauses.
ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys has previously spoken of Folau's potential to return to the NRL, and was asked at his initial press conference upon taking on the role in 2019.
"The game is inclusive. Israel's comments are not inclusive," V'landys said at the time.
"When I was a kid and kids used to get bashed up because they were different, I used to go and defend them.
"And a lot of them, it's because they're role models or their peers made them that way.
"I have no tolerance for people that put other people's lives (at risk) or (commit) violence. It's a big statement to make.
"With due respect to Israel, what he says, young kids listen to. He is a role model. They act on it.
"And when you're a kid at school and you get bashed up because you're different, I don't think that's a good thing."
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