One club boss described Folau as “damaged goods”, while another admitted the risk wasn’t worth taking.
However, the fact Folau was keen to personally put his case to powerbrokers at Rugby League Central suggests he is confident of attracting interest if head office gives its blessing.
French Super League club Catalans signed Folau after his acrimonious split with Rugby Australia, prompted by controversial social media posts during his time in the sport. The 31-year-old is prepared to guarantee he won’t publicly express his religious beliefs if the NRL allows him to return.
Folau is still contracted to Catalans for the current season, but has returned to Australia for family reasons. Catalans coach Steve McNamara is resigned to the former GWS Giants player never playing for the club again.
“One hundred per cent Izzy is always welcome to come back here,” McNamara said this month. “He still has a contract here. Given the severity of his family situation, we understand it might not be possible for him to come back.”
If Folau was allowed to return to the NRL, Catalans would likely get a transfer fee in exchange for freeing him from his contract.
St George Illawarra attracted intense criticism for pursuing Folau. Ian Roberts, who in 1995 became the first professional footballer in any code to come out as gay while still playing, panned the decision.
“Rugby league isn’t solely about winning and losing,” Roberts told the Herald earlier this month.
“I don’t know who okayed this and thought it was a good idea or thought it would be good for the club at St George Illawarra – the coach, the board, whatever. But they would have to reflect upon their position in rugby league.
“This is about the very fabric of what rugby league is about; it’s about community, inclusion, integrity.
“This isn’t about winning and losing games. At what cost? I’m just disappointed it got this far.”
Sports news, results and expert commentary delivered straight to your inbox each weekday. Sign up here.
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.