The St. George Illawarra Dragons were widely criticised for their failed pursuit of Israel Folau but one of the club’s sponsors has attacked the NRL for making them look “rash and stupid.”
The Dragons confirmed they were hoping to lure Folau back to the NRL only to back down days later after significant backlash.
Norm Black, founder of travel company TripADeal – one of the Dragons’ sponsors, has defended the club though instead claiming the NRL should be the ones copping the heat.
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“The first thing that needs to be said is that anyone who thinks for a moment that the Dragons acted in a reckless or thoughtless manner when it came to looking at Folau … well, they have rocks in their head,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Black told the Herald that the club consulted sponsors “long before” the Folau pursuit was made public and that the board was well-prepared.
The NRL on the other hand, he claims treated the club “poorly” throughout the whole ordeal.
“They gave the club the rope and then they quietly hung us,” he added.
“There was never a firm no from the NRL … instead they allowed us to explore it and led us down the garden path.
“They allowed the club to look rash and stupid, and the reason they didn’t cut it off straight away is because the NRL knows they would have had to face a court case.
“They knew there was a restraint of trade or something similar at risk facing them.”
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Appearing on SEN earlier in the month, Wests Tigers chairman and qualified lawyer Lee Hagipentalis said Folau’s situation was highly complex from a legal perspective.
“The test is whether he is a fit and proper person, that’s a decision to be made by the NRL,” he said.
“That’s obviously subject to the NRL. If the NRL in its infinite wisdom that he was not a fit and proper person and then refused registration, you’d expect that would be subject to a challenge.
“Israel Folau, to my knowledge, has not committed any criminal offence, charged with any criminal offence. He’s made very public statement which are proven to be very divisive and contrary to what I think is the broader community view.
“Is that sufficient to deny him an opportunity to ply his trade?”
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo was quick to get on the front-foot when the reports first emerged claiming the Dragons wanted to bring Folau over.
ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys slammed the door on Folau’s potential return in 2019, affirming the game “is inclusive” while Folau’s “comments are not.”
Abdo said on February 2 that the NRL had not received a formal application and that if they did, the NRL would follow a due process.
“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 at the time.
“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.”
He also confirmed that NRL sponsorships and fans would factor into the decision.
“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.”