Israel Folau considered ending his career during his enforced 10-month exile from rugby and admits he is nervous ahead of his eagerly-awaited Super League debut.
The 30-year-old dual-code Australian international will make his first appearance for Catalans Dragons against Castleford at Stade Gilbert Brutus on Saturday.
Folau has not played since being sacked by Rugby Australia last May for posting homophobic comments on social media, and it is a decade since the former Melbourne and Brisbane winger or full-back last played rugby league.
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— Dragons Catalans (@DragonsOfficiel) February 13, 2020
“Yes of course I thought about ending my career and to do other things,” Folau said in an interview with Perpignan newspaper L’Independant.
“I thank the president and my coach for this opportunity they have given me. It’s like a new start for me and I am very excited to return to the sport in which I became known.
“I haven’t played 13-a-side for 10 years, so I am also pretty nervous. But the environment is favourable, between the staff and the players, so that I can give my best.
“I am here to be competitive, to play rugby and be consistent with my performances for the team. It’s great to come back in a new team environment and to find a training routine with the others, but the most important thing is to give the best for my team.”
Folau was the centre of unprecedented media attention when he ran out for the final team run at the stadium on Friday morning.
The Catalans have come under huge criticism from both Super League and the Rugby Football League as well as fellow clubs for their signing of the former Wallabies and Waratahs player, but coach Steve McNamara believes he deserves a second chance.
“You only see the headline, you don’t know the person,” the former England boss told the PA news agency.
“Once you see this person as a man, you understand him more and realise it’s not a life sentence what he did.
“We don’t agree with it, absolutely. But let’s get him on the field and we can talk about some other things.”
Folau’s arrival is timely, given the Dragons’ unfortunate start to the season.
They suffered a surprise 32-12 home defeat by Huddersfield a fortnight ago and had their second-round game at Wakefield last Sunday called off because of the weather.
With next week’s scheduled league game against St Helens falling victim to the World Club Challenge, the Catalans could soon find themselves at the wrong end of the table but McNamara is only focusing on Saturday.
“We didn’t get round one right – Huddersfield played well against us – but we’re not looking at long term, we’re just trying to get it right for this week,” he said.
“We’ve had a difficult approach to this week’s game because of the circumstances around it so we’ve just got to concentrate on getting that right and playing a whole lot better this week.”