Wakefield coach Chris Chester says he is under strict orders not to speak about the Catalans Dragons’ controversial signing of Israel Folau as he waits to discover if his side will face the dual-code international on Sunday.
The French club caused a furore when they ignored the pleas of both Super League and the Rugby Football League by handing a 12-month contract to Folau after he was sacked by Rugby Australia for posting homophobic comments on social media.
Super League were hoping to have drawn a line under the controversy by announcing on Wednesday their intention to implement measures to prevent any further such signings but the issue is clearly still highly sensitive.
— Dragons Catalans (@DragonsOfficiel) January 28, 2020
Huddersfield cancelled their scheduled weekly pre-match press conference on the advice of Super League ahead of their visit to the Catalans a week ago and Chester was told not to answer questions from the media on the subject at Thursday’s conference.
“I’ve been strictly told by the people above and by Super League not to make any comment on anything to do with the gentleman from Catalans and I won’t be making any comment on it,” Chester said.
“My hands are tied at this moment in time. Whether that changes over the coming weeks, I don’t know but I’m under strict guidelines here from my chairman and my CEO and also from Super League.
“Super League has come out with a statement, I think our club chairman has come out with a statement and I fully support those two statements.”
Super League Statement: Israel Folau
— Betfred Super League (@SuperLeague) February 5, 2020
Trinity captain Jacob Miller was a little more forthcoming, referring to the club’s support of former team-mate Keegan Hirst, the only openly gay player in professional rugby league who has condemned Folau’s arrival in the competition.
Asked if he was surprised by the level of controversy, Miller said: “Not really, especially with us having Keegan Hirst last year. It’s something we’re pretty supportive of as a club.
“Other than that we’ve had pretty big things to worry about this week. That’s about it on that, sorry.”
I’m shocked and disappointed at the signing of @IzzyFolau. Our great game is tasked with fighting against homophobia and standing up for the values it puts such high stock in. It shows none of the bravery, cameraderie or integrity @rfl expects from its players, staff and fans
— Keegan Hirst (@KeeganHirst) January 28, 2020
Miller concedes the former Wallabies and Waratahs winger or full-back would be a potential handful if he makes his debut on Sunday.
“He’ll be a massive threat,” he said. “He’s a massive kick target and a big human out on the edges. Hopefully he has another week off.”
Folau has been training with his new team-mates all week after flying in from Sydney last weekend and, although he has not played any kind of rugby for 10 months, the Dragons are short of outside backs.
Coach Steve McNamara, who has warned that Folau will need time to re-adjust to rugby league after being out of the game for 10 years, will provide an indication of his plans when he names his 21-man squad at noon on Friday.
Chester added: “I’m led to believe potentially he could be playing. I don’t know a great deal about him to be honest, not really bothered too much about him either.
“There’s 16 other blokes on the field. It’s more about what we need to do this week.”
Meanwhile, Wakefield are to hold a celebration of inclusivity when the Catalans visit Belle Vue, with or without Folau, who said “hell awaits” gay people.
Learn more 👇https://t.co/nvxK1VHHq1
— Wigan Warriors 🍒⚪️ (@WiganWarriorsRL) January 28, 2020
Wigan responded to the signing by declaring a Pride Day when the Dragons visit to the DW Stadium on March 22 and Trinity chief executive Michael Carter says his club are engaging with LGBT groups in the run up to the round two Super League fixture.
“We’re not trying to just ride a LGBT bandwagon, we already had our PDRL (Physical Disability RL) and LDRL (Learning Disability RL) and ladies teams coming down any way,” Carter said.
“We’re saying anybody who wants to come down and celebrate the inclusivity of our sport would be very, very welcome.
“What I don’t want to do is turn it into some kind of witch-hunt against an individual because then you will always get somebody who takes it too far.”