Israel Folau’s hopes of a rugby league return have been dashed after the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) suspended Tonga.
Former Wallabies star Folau – who was sacked by Rugby Australia (RA) for homophobic posts on social media in April – planned to make a rugby league comeback for Tonga in upcoming Tests against Great Britain and Australia.
However, the RLIF board voted to cancel the Tonga National Rugby League’s (TNRL) international membership on Thursday, pending a full investigation into issues raised by various parties, including the Rugby Football League and the Australia Rugby League Commission.
The unanimous decision came after the “Tonga Prime Minister advised the RLIF that TNRL had lost the trust and support of its members, clubs and players”, with a list of Tonga’s highest profile players making themselves unavailable under the current administration.
“The RLIF has received representations and concerns from the Office of the Prime Minister of Tonga, the Tongan Sports Council, the RFL, the ARLC, the RLPA on behalf of leading players and from concerned groups in the Kingdom of Tonga,” RLIF chairman Graeme Thompson said in a statement.
“In view of the considerable evidence that the interests of international rugby league were not being best served at this time. The RLIF Board voted unanimously that the TNRL’s membership be suspended with immediate effect while these matters are properly investigated. The RLIF, at the request of the Tongan government will work with the Tongan Sports Council to ensure that the forthcoming international calendar is not undermined.
“The RLIF stresses that the suspension of TNRL is not an expulsion and is intended to provide a period of stability, while the matters raised by the various stakeholders can be properly and fully investigated. We now call on all parties to cooperate fully with the process to ensure a swift resolution.”
A former Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos star in the NRL, Folau – who last played rugby league in 2010 before switching to rugby union in 2013 following a spell in Australian rules football – in July opened court proceedings against his former employer after his contract was terminated for expressing views which breached the team’s code of conduct on his official channels.
Folau and the Tonga National Rugby League announced his selection in the squad for the upcoming games on October 26 and November 2, however, the RLIF on Monday denied the 30-year-old had been approved to represent the 2017 Rugby League World Cup semi-finalists.
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