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Dragons target Folau for NRL return

The door is open for Israel Folau to make a return to the NRL after league chief Andrew Abdo confirmed he would consider a formal application as part of due process.

Folau's controversial past will form part of the considerations should St George Illawarra submit a formal application for him to join the club on a two-year deal.

It's understood Dragons chief executive Ryan Webb and Abdo have had private conversations over several weeks about bringing Folau back to the game in Australia, although no formal application has been submitted.

The NRL has previously indicated the door was shut for the 31-year-old former Queensland and Australia star to make a return.

However, the governing body would legally need to consider any application put forward by the Dragons and assess it on merit.

"Any player or official needs to be registered with the NRL and that process involves a number of diligence matters and that includes an assessment of the individual and that will take place," Abdo said on Tuesday.

"I don't want to pre-empt what may or may not happen, it's pure speculation at the moment because we don't have a formal application, but when someone does make an application, of course there are professional factors that are taken into account and that will include things that have happened, I suppose, throughout his career and all of that needs to be weighed into our decision."

Abdo confirmed NRL sponsorships and the game's fans will also be part of the considerations concerning a possible Folou return.

"Our process around being fair to the athlete is first and foremost what the consideration will be, but any decision you make, you need to think about the fans and you need to think about your investors and sponsors and all of that will be taken into account," he said.

"But ultimately it's the NRL's decision."

Folau has been playing rugby league for Catalans in the Super League and signed a one-year extension with them in July last year.

However, the controversial former rugby union star has been in Australia over the summer for family reasons.

It's believed St George Illawarra would follow the same process as the Catalans if they were to draft a contract, which would see Folau bound by strict social media clauses.

ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys has previously spoken of Folau's potential to return to the NRL, and was asked at his initial press conference upon taking on the role in 2019.

"The game is inclusive. Israel's comments are not inclusive," V'landys said at the time.

"When I was a kid and kids used to get bashed up because they were different, I used to go and defend them.

"And a lot of them, it's because their role models or their peers made them that way.

"I have no tolerance for people that put other people's lives (at risk) or (commit) violence. It's a big statement to make.

"With due respect to Israel, what he says, young kids listen to. He is a role model. They act on it.

"And when you're a kid at school and you get bashed up because you're different, I don't think that's a good thing."

Folau's repeated anti-gay social media posts eventually saw him sacked by Rugby Australia midway through 2019 for breach of contract, before the star fullback then won a significant financial settlement through the courts.

RA was both applauded and denounced for its hardline stance on Folau, having previously warned the code-hopper, with the governing body determined to be an inclusive sport in Australia.

Speaking in reaction to the Dragons' pursuit of Folau on Tuesday, Pride in Sport co-founder Andrew Purchas said the NRL also pertained to be an inclusive competition.

"Views previously expressed by Mr Folau about LGBTQ people do not reflect the standards and expectations that exist today in Australia," Purchas said in a statement.

"His past statements about LGBTQ communities work in direct opposition to the significant progress on acceptance and inclusion that is being made by sporting codes, clubs and organisations across the country.

"If the St George Illawarra Dragons go down this path, there is an expectation that there will be a zero-tolerance policy on harassment and discrimination against LGBTQ people.

"Further, if Mr Folau's appointment as a player eventuates, he must abide by NRL's policies on diversity and inclusion, and we encourage the Dragons to have in place strategies that will ensure best practice deliverables around LGBTQ inclusion policy, education, visibility, and cultural safety.

"NRL is a code that prides itself as being a sport for everyone with strong values of diversity and inclusion.

"History has shown Mr Folau's repeated failures to abide by sporting inclusion policies despite assurances.

"Sporting clubs must take a stand against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia when it happens and send a clear message to all Australians that discriminatory words and deeds will not be tolerated."