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NRL tests waters over Folau interest as clubs distance themselves from chase

Panthers chief executive Brian Fletcher said: “There’s no interest, not one per cent”, when asked about Folau heading to the Panthers. South Sydney counterpart Blake Solly said “we have absolutely no interest in him at all”, while Canterbury chairman John Khoury said the same.

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Wests Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe, Cronulla’s Dino Mezzatesta and Manly boss Stephen Humphries were also all happy to pass when contacted by the Herald.

Parramatta could do with an experienced centre, especially with Michael Jennings provisionally stood down after last year testing positive to a banned substance, and Folau came through the junior ranks at the Eels. But club CEO Jim Sarantinos insists “he has never been discussed and his name has never come up in our discussions”.

One club boss described Folau as “damaged goods”, while another admitted the risk wasn’t worth taking.

“When you look at the risk versus reward, it’s not worth it. I just think it’s too much angst. Looking at what happened at the Dragons, if a club was to do that now you would be really desperate.

“You’re not looking at it from a pure footballing point of view. The fallout with the community, the media, sponsors and the distinct likelihood the NRL won’t register the contract, why would you bother.”

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Wests Tigers chairman Lee Hagipantelis says Israel Folau’s divisive commentary would preclude the club from pursuing him, but the lawyer predicts the NRL would run into a courtroom challenge if it failed to register a contract lodged by a club.

Hagipantelis is in a unique position to provide a perspective. With his legal hat on – he is the principal of Brydens Lawyers – Hagipantelis believes it would be difficult for the NRL to knock back Folau on the basis of the “fit and proper person” test.

“From a legal perspective, it would be a very difficult argument to maintain,” Hagipantelis said. “It is difficult presently to envisage what the argument may be that would deny him registration. “Do I agree with what he said? Absolutely not. Do I struggle with any restraint on free speech? Absolutely yes.

“I would not be surprised if there was a legal challenge if there was any refusal to register him as an NRL player. Personally, I feel that Israel’s conduct has created so much division and hostility – and it is not in line with community views that would be reflected by our fans and members.

“We’re endeavouring to build at Wests Tigers a culture that is inclusive. We are not inclined towards any conduct or views that would create divisions. I don’t think Israel’s persona, as has displayed publicly, would fit in with our ideals of standards given the potential of division it would create. From my perspective personally, there would be no outreach to Israel Folau despite the fact he is a wonderful player and I’m sure a wonderful human being.”

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