Karl Stefanovic has savaged the NRL for considering allowing Israel Folau back into the league.
St George Illawarra dropped a bombshell on Tuesday when they confirmed they’d approached the NRL about signing Folau.
‘FINAL STRAW’: Brutal backlash to Dragons' pursuit of Folau
It’s understood Dragons chief executive Ryan Webb and NRL CEO Andrew Abdo have had private conversations over several weeks about bringing Folau back to the game in Australia, although no formal application has been submitted.
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.
Folau previously played in the NRL with the Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos, before switching to rugby union and playing for the Wallabies.
However his contract with Rugby Australia was terminated in 2019 after he made a number of homophobic comments on social media.
The 31-year-old has been playing for Catalans Dragons in the UK Super League.
However he could be back in the NRL this season, with reports the Dragons will request he stay off social media if they sign him.
On Wednesday morning Stefanovic said it was “appalling” that the NRL was even entertaining the idea of a Folau return.
“I think it’s way out of line, given what he said and the hurt he caused,” Stefanovic said on Today on Wednesday.
“To just somehow then say, ‘You know what, it’s OK because he doesn’t have a platform for his beliefs’.
“He has never apologised for his beliefs. He still believes in that. He still is a homophobe.
“The NRL needs to take a stand on this stuff and they need to take it now.
“He is not changing his behaviour. He’s not changing his views, but let’s let him play because he can’t go on social media? That’s an absolute cop out.”
Stefanovic said Folau’s views haven’t changed and he still has the potential to make damaging comments.
“You’re saying it’s OK. You still believe this stuff. It’s not good enough now. It’s just not good enough,” he said.
“For the NRL, you have to take a stand here. I know that you want people in the code that are great players and that draw crowds, but this is the wrong message to send to a generation of people who have been so hurt and feel so abused by him.
“He shouldn’t be given a chance unless he’s absolutely sorry for what he has said and the fact is he’s not sorry, so don’t give him a chance.
“The code needs to take a stand and reflect the attitudes that they don’t accept and they need to take it now.”
Co-host Allison Langdon agreed, saying Folau “still holds these beliefs”.
“When you think about how many young people he hurt when he made those comments, and if you’re a young, rising rugby league star or footy star or any young person - to hear your idol say those things that you’re not normal, that you’re not welcome, we can’t underestimate the damage,” she said.
NRL leaves door open for Israel Folau return
Abdo on Tuesday said the NRL will consider the Dragons’ proposal.
“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.
“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 Folau return.
“Our process around being fair to the athlete is first and foremost what the consideration will be, but any decision you make, you need to think about the fans and you need to think about your investors and sponsors and all of that will be taken into account,” he said.
“But ultimately it's the NRL’s decision.”
Catalans also addressed the Folau news on Tuesday, saying his return to the NRL was “absolute rubbish”.
“I'm in constant dialogue with Izzy,” coach Steve McNamara said.
“Nothing has changed on that front for either of us. We are in constant dialogue over the whole situation.”
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