Israel Folau has said that he is grateful for the opportunity to resurrect his career with the Catalans Dragons as the twelve Super League clubs prepare for potentially explosive showdown talks on Wednesday.
Folau has begun training with his new team-mates in the south of France after flying in from Sydney and could make his debut at Wakefield on Sunday.
The Catalans cancelled plans for a press conference following a barrage of unwelcome publicity but conducted their own interview in which Folau expressed his gratitude for being given a way back into rugby.
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Folau, who argued his sacking amounted to religious discrimination in suing Rugby Australia for £7.4million and reached a settlement in December, has been out of action since last playing for the Warratahs last April and has not played league for 10 years.
“I’m excited to be back playing the game I grew up playing,” he said. “It’s been 10 years since I last played league and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be part of a great organisation and a great team in Catalans.
“I’m looking forward to getting out there.
“From the first day being here you can see how professional the boys, the coaching staff and everyone involved are.
“I’m here to obviously compete and play some good footy and hopefully be a consistent player for the team.
“I missed that team camaraderie and team environment. Being able to train with the team and work alongside the coaches, that’s something I’ve missed in the last seven months but it’s fantastic to be back in a team environment and getting into that routine of training hard again, enjoying the game and putting my best foot forward.
“It’s very different and something totally different to what I’m used to, but myself and my wife have been excited from the day we landed here.
“We’re embracing something new and something different. The culture is amazing and we’re looking forward, as the year goes on, to learn to speak the language and embrace the people here and how awesome this place is.”
Catalans Dragons coach Steve McNamara has defended his club’s controversial signing of Folau as chairman Bernard Guasch prepares to face the music from his Super League counterparts.
McNamara broke his silence and Folau also spoke for the first time since his move to Europe was announced seven days ago.
The French club defied the will of both Super League and the Rugby Football League in signing the dual-code international, who was sacked by Rugby Australia last May for posting homophobic comments on social media.
Guasch has insisted the Dragons do not agree with Folau’s views and says they signed an agreement with the RFL that any transgression will trigger an immediate termination of the player’s contract and a substantial fine for the club.
However, the other Super League clubs remain angry over the signing and have asked Guasch to attend a meeting in Salford on Wednesday.
McNamara said: “We knew it would be controversial.
“As an individual I stand by the club statement that Bernard issued on the signing of Israel.
“An opportunity arose after Brayden Wiliame left and we needed an outside back. We looked in France, England and overseas in the southern hemisphere in both league and union.
“We investigated a fair few players, Israel’s name was on that list and, having spent a lot of time speaking to him and understanding him a lot more and getting reassurances. We made a decision as a club that we would support Israel and give him another opportunity in our game.”