Israel Folau finally made his long-awaited return to rugby league on Saturday night, as he was heckled by a fan during his match for the Southport Tigers.
The controversial code-hopper made his debut for the Southport Tigers in the third-tier Queensland rugby league competition.
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The Tigers were victorious, claiming a 38-28 win over Runaway Bay, as Folau made a mostly uneventful return to the 13-man game.
The 32-year-old crossed over for a try in the second half, beating two defenders and carrying another two players over the line in an impressive movement.
In the first half, Folau nearly scored in trademark fashion from a towering kick, only to be held up on the line.
There were around 700 fans in attendance at Owen Park to watch the cross-code football star in action, including his billionaire backer Clive Palmer.
But the crowd on the sidelines wasn’t entirely supportive, with one onlooker repeatedly yelling out, “Do something!” in Folau’s direction for the majority of the game.
And when he went over to score, the man took credit for getting him involved in the game.
After the match, Folau admitted he was just pleased to get through the game unscathed.
“It’s always good to get on the scoreboard but I was just happy to blow the cobwebs out,” he told The Courier Mail.
“The support has been amazing. I was just happy to get back on the field.
Folau scored a try for the Southport Tigers in the A-Grade QRL match on Saturday night. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images
“I’m just enjoying playing my footy.”
The occasion marked the first time Folau has played rugby league in Australia since he played the 2010 NRL season with the Brisbane Broncos.
It had been a tumultuous journey for Folau to even take the field on the Gold Coast on Saturday night.
Just last week, he was finally released from his contract with French side the Catalans Dragons, whom he played one season with in the Super League.
The Dragons reportedly agreed to pay the dual international a financial settlement of $50,000 to clear him from his contract.
“He told us his desire to play alongside his two brothers and we didn’t want to prevent him (from doing so). We wish him all the best in the next chapter of his career,” Catalans chairman Bernard Guasch said.
Folau was ecstatic to have fulfilled a life-long goal of playing in the same team as his brothers John and Eni.
However, his time at the Southport Tigers will be shortlived. Earlier this week, he signed a deal worth $1.8 to join NTT Communications in the Japanese Top League.
The deal will see Folau earn a massive salary of $900,000 a season.
Israel Folau won’t make too many appearances for the Tigers before me moves to Japan to play rugby union. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images
The paycheck is a stunning change of fortune for the 32-year-old, who stood to make only $200,000 for his return to rugby league with the Southport Tigers in the Gold Coast competition.
Folau’s surprising move to Japan was announced earlier this week and even caught his biggest supporter off guard.
The Gold Coast Bulletin reported the move even shocked Palmer, who was backing Folau’s league return, with a Palmer United Party spokesman labelling Folau’s defection “bulls***” before being supplied the official press release.
The dual international representative was sacked by Rugby Australia in 2019 for saying “hell awaits” gay people and others he considers sinners.
He scored 37 tries in 73 rugby union Tests for the Wallabies before being dumped, then returned to league in February last year with the Dragons.
Rugby Australia’s sacking of Folau in 2019 sparked a long-running legal dispute that was eventually settled when it made a multimillion-dollar out-of-court payment.
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