23 Sep 2019

Sport: Israel Folau to don Tongan league jersey

10:12 pm on 23 September 2019

Controversial former Wallaby Israel Folau is set to turn out for the Tongan rugby league team in their upcoming internationals against Great Britain and Australia.

Israel Folau.

Israel Folau. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Tonga National Rugby League (TNRL) has issued a statement saying that Folau, and his brother John, have been registered by the body and are now eligible to play for the hugely popular Mate Ma'a Tonga.

TNRL chair George Koloamatangi confirmed both Israel and John Folau would play in the Oceania Cup fixture against Australia on 2 November and the historic match against Great Britain a week earlier.

However, neither player is available for the World Nines tournament in October to be played in Sydney because that tournament comes under the auspices of Australia's NRL.

Because the international fixtures are under the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF), both players can be selected for Tonga.

Mate Ma'a Tonga coach Frank Endacott said he was thrilled at the prospect of Israel, aged 30, and John, aged 24 being available to play.

"This is great news", said Endacott. "These guys are great footballers and bring size, pace and skill to the team.

"They will make a huge impact in the team and provide exciting attack options all over the park."

Endacott said their inclusion was great for the game.

Israel Folau said he was excited about returning to rugby league and being able to do that while playing for Tonga was very special.

"I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to represent God, my family, my heritage and the people of Tonga" he said.

"I am thankful that the RLIF have accepted my availability to play."

Folau played professional Australian Rules and rugby league before switching to rugby union where he represented the New South Wales Waratahs in Super Rugby nearly 100 times and played 62 matches for Australia.

However, he was sacked by Rugby Australia this year, abruptly ending his career, for a Code of Conduct breach surrounding religious social media posts claiming certain sections of the public were destined for hell.

Folau has since launched legal action for unlawful termination.

Younger brother John has played for the Parramatta Eels' NYC team in the past and in 2014 he played for the Queensland Under 20s team.

He switched to rugby union, eventually signing with the New South Wales Waratahs at the start of this season.

He was shortly released from that contract on personal grounds,

The naming of the Folau brothers follow the acrimonious sacking of former Tongan coach Kristian Woolf after a split with the TNRL board which has led to some leading players threatening to boycott the upcoming internationals.

John Folau scores for Parramatta at the 2015 Auckland Nines

John Folau scores for Parramatta at the 2015 Auckland Nines Photo: Photosport