Israel Folau may be thwarted in his bid to play for Tonga in their rugby league internationals against Great Britain and his native Australia in October.
The controversial dual-code international, 30, who played for the Wallabies against the rugby union Lions in 2013, is currently locked in a legal battle with Rugby Australia over his sacking in May for posting homophobic comments on social media.
The Tonga National Rugby League released a statement on Monday saying the former Melbourne and Brisbane outside back and his 24-year-old brother John have been registered with them and are set to play in the Tests against the touring Lions in Hamilton on October 26 and Australia in Auckland a week later.
In the statement, Folau said: “I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to represent God, my family, my heritage and the people of Tonga.
“I am thankful that the RLIF (Rugby League International Federation) have accepted my availability to play.”
However, the RLIF flatly denied giving its approval, saying it has yet to be asked to make a ruling.
A statement said: “The Rugby League International Federation is aware of a media release issued by Tonga National Rugby League stating that Israel Folau has been ‘approved’ by the RLIF to represent Tonga in international matches.
“That statement is incorrect, the RLIF has not been formally asked to consider this matter.
“The RLIF will not be commenting further on this situation at this stage.”
The Australia Rugby League closed the door on a return to the NRL in June when then chairman Peter Beattie insisted it would not accept Folau’s registration and the player is barred from appearing in the World Nines in Sydney on October 18-19 because the event is run by the NRL.
In the statement posted on the Tonga National Rugby League website chairman George Koloamatangi said: “ I am sure the event managers will be rubbing their hands in expectation of more great international spectacles now that Israel and John have confirmed their availability.”
Tonga reached the 2017 World Cup semi-finals, losing narrowly to England, but are currently involved in a dispute with their leading players over the departure of head coach Kristian Wolf, who will take over at St Helens in 2020.
Israel Folau is again at the centre of a dispute over his international availability (Nigel French/PA)
Former Wigan, Widnes and New Zealand boss Frank Endacott has been appointed as Wolf’s successor and he said he was thrilled at the prospect of coaching the Folau brothers.
“This is great news,” said Endacott. “These guys are great footballers and bring size, pace and skill to the team. They will make a huge impact in the team and provide exciting attack options all over the park.
“This will be great boost to the internationals and I can’t wait to see the crowd support that this will generate from our famous Mate Ma’a Tonga supporters.
“And it is good to see the RLIF approving these players for internationals. This is great for the game.”
– Press Association
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