Israel Folau (Tongan: Isileli Folau; born 3 April 1989) is a former Australian professional rugby league footballer. He was a rugby union player who most recently played for the New South Wales Waratahs in Super Rugby. He has previously played rugby league and Australian rules football. In 2019, he became the record holder for most tries scored in Super Rugby history.
|Born||3 April 1989|
Minto, New South Wales, Australia
|Height||194 cm (6 ft 4 in)|
|Weight||103 kg (16 st 3 lb; 227 lb)|
|Position||Fullback / centre / wing|
Australian rules football
As of 13 April 2019
Folau played rugby league for the Melbourne Storm in the National Rugby League (NRL) from 2007 to 2008, where he broke the record for most tries in a debut year. He then played with the Brisbane Broncos from 2009 to 2010. Playing as a wing or centre, Folau represented Queensland in the State of Origin and Australia, becoming the youngest player to play for both teams.
In 2011, Folau joined the Greater Western Sydney Giants in the Australian Football League (AFL) and played for two seasons. In December 2012, Folau announced he was to switch codes again, this time for rugby union, and signed a one-year contract with the Waratahs. He made his international debut for Australia in 2013 against the British & Irish Lions. "Israel Folau Street" was named in his honour on October 2010 in a suburb of Goodna, Ipswich, Queensland where Folau played junior rugby league.
Folau's statements about what he understands the Bible to say about same-sex marriage and homosexuality brought him into conflict with the administrators of Rugby Australia, and in 2019 they terminated his contract. Folau commenced proceedings in the Fair Work Commission but was unable to reach a settlement with Rugby Australia; he subsequently commenced proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and a confidential settlement between the two parties was released on 4 December 2019.
Folau was born in Minto, New South Wales to Tongan parents, Eni and Amelia. He attended Lurnea Public School and Westfields Sports High School before his family moved to Brisbane, Queensland in 2004, after his father obtained work there. In Brisbane Folau attended Marsden State High School from where he was selected for the Queensland Schoolboys squad in the Australian Under-15 Championships and also represented the Australian Schoolboys team in 2006. Folau also played several seasons of junior rugby league at the Goodna Eagles in Goodna.
At the Australian championships, Folau was spotted by a Melbourne Storm scout and was invited to play his junior football with the Storm's feeder club at the time, Queensland Cup team, the Norths Devils. He won a premiership while playing with Norths and became the first player to represent Queensland Under-19's while still only 16 years old. From playing with the Queensland Schoolboys and the Devils, in 2006, while in year 12 at Marsden State High School where his classmates were Chris Sandow and Antonio Winterstein, Folau was selected to play in the Australian Schoolboys squad that toured Wales, England and France. Folau was strong, representing Australia and at the end of the tour was awarded the Australian Secondary School Rugby Leagues (ASSRL) Award for the best back of the tournament. Playing years above his age gave Melbourne the confidence to give Folau an opportunity in the NRL.
Rugby league career
Folau was just 17 years of age when he made his debut in the 2007 NRL season. His debut came earlier than his coach Craig Bellamy intended, and he was named as a replacement on the right wing for injured Steve Turner. He started in the side's first match of the 2007 NRL season, against the Wests Tigers, and became the youngest player ever to play for the Storm. In his first game, he scored the match-winning try to help Melbourne beat the Tigers 18–16. After such a solid performance in his opening game, and an injury free year, Folau went on to play in every match of the season, the only player to do so for Melbourne in 2007. Playing superbly on the wing, coach Craig Bellamy brought Folau in to play in the centres from time to time, where he would receive more ball and have more opportunity to score points. After 26 rounds Folau finished the regular season with 21 tries and 5 goals for a total of 94 career points. His try tally (21) saw him the equal top-try scorer for the 2007 regular season alongside North Queensland Cowboys full-back Matt Bowen.
In his rookie year Folau broke a number of club and NRL records, the most prestigious being teammate Billy Slater's previous NRL record of most tries in a debut season (Slater scored 19 in 2003). Folau capped off a magnificent first season in the NRL by winning the 2007 Dally M Rookie of the Year Award and being a part of the successful 2007 Melbourne Storm premiership side, that only lost three matches all year. This premiership was later taken away due to mass salary cap breaches.
Following an ankle injury to Brisbane Broncos centre Justin Hodges, Folau replaced him in the Australian test side to play New Zealand on 14 October 2007. On his international debut, Folau became the youngest ever player to represent Australia at 18 years and 194 days old, passing the previous record set by Brad Fittler (18 years and 247 days) in 1990. Folau then went on to score two tries in Australia's record-breaking 58–0 defeat of New Zealand.
In 2008, after Melbourne and New South Wales representative Matt King announced he would be leaving the Storm to play with the Warrington Wolves in the Super League, Folau filled the void as the starting centre for Melbourne. After seven rounds of the 2008 season, Folau was named on the wing in the starting squad to represent Australia for the second time in the Centenary Australia vs. New Zealand test, contributing a try in the 28–12 win for the Kangaroos. Folau was then selected in the starting squad as a winger in the Queensland State of Origin Team for game I of the 2008 Series. On 21 May 2008, Folau made his debut for Queensland at ANZ Stadium Sydney. In the final minutes of the match Folau scored a try on debut, but Queensland lost 18–10 to New South Wales. Folau retained his position for game II at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. Folau contributed one of the Maroons' four tries in the 30-point win over the Blues, levelling the series. In the final game of the series, game III, Folau scored two leaping tries and was awarded the Man of the Match in Queensland's 16–10 win over NSW.
At the conclusion of the 2008 regular season, Folau was again honoured at the prestigious Dally M Awards night, winning the Dally M Centre of the Year award. Folau had been a part of his second minor premiership in as many years with the Melbourne Storm and played in his second consecutive grand final where they lost in a rematch of last years final to the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles. Earlier in the year away from the field, on 30 March 2008, it was announced Folau had signed with the Brisbane Broncos for the 2009 NRL season. Folau's decision to leave the Melbourne Storm at the end of 2008 was influenced by his desire to live closer to his family in Brisbane, Queensland.
In October 2008, Folau was chosen to play for the Kangaroos in the 2008 Rugby League World Cup. Folau scored two tries in Australia's successful opening match against New Zealand but would not score another try all through the series despite starting in Australia's 52 – 4 win over England and 52 – 0 win over Fiji. On 22 November he took part in his first World Cup Grand Final starting in the centres for Australia. Unfortunately for Folau he would not add a World Cup victory to his accolades as Australia lost 34 – 20 to under-dogs New Zealand.
Folau received the Rugby League International Federation 2008 Rookie of the Year award.
Folau was a major signing for the Broncos at the same time several key players, as well as coach Wayne Bennett left the club.
Folau made his debut for the Brisbane Broncos in round one of the 2009 season, scoring the team's first try in a 19–18 win over the North Queensland Cowboys. The following week, Folau again opened the scoring in the highly anticipated clash against his former club, Melbourne Storm, soaring above his former teammates to take a catch in what would be the first try in the Broncos 16–14 win – the club's first home win over the Storm since 2005. Folau continued his try-scoring feats averaging a try-a-game by Round 10. This was helped by a massive four-try haul against the Gold Coast Titans in May, equalling Brisbane Broncos Steve Renouf's record for the most tries in a single game for the Queensland club.
In April 2009, he was named in the preliminary 25-man squad to represent Queensland in the opening match of the 2009 State of Origin series, and was subsequently picked on the wing for the opening State of Origin match. He also played in Game 2, scoring a try, but missed Game 3 due to injury.
Controversially despite signing mid-year with rival code the AFL, Folau was selected and played in all three Origin games in 2010. He continued to produce try-scoring form scoring 17 tries from 16 matches with the Brisbane Broncos but his rugby league career to date was cut shorter than anticipated as the Brisbane Broncos failed to make the finals series for the first time in over a decade. Folau was also overlooked to represent Australia in the Four Nations tournament and was subsequently dis-allowed by the Australian Rugby League to play for Tonga in a warm-up match against Samoa. In a further some-what controversial decision he was banned from being a member of the coaching staff as he had planned to run the water as a trainer for the Tongan team.
Australian rules football career
24 March 2012, Greater Western Sydney|
vs. Sydney, at ANZ Stadium
|Position(s)||Centre half-forward / Utility|
|2011–2012||Greater Western Sydney||13 (2)|
1 Playing statistics correct to the end of Round 23, 2012.
Greater Western Sydney
As his contract with the Brisbane Broncos was set to expire at the end of the 2010 season Folau was linked to the Melbourne Rebels rugby union team in Super Rugby and had also been linked with a move to GWS AFL team. After a three-way bidding war between rugby league, rugby union and Australian rules football, Folau signed a deal with the expansion Australian Football League team Greater Western Sydney, estimated to be worth up to $6 million over four years.
Folau began his Australian rules football playing career in the North East Australian Football League playing for the Greater Western Sydney Giants. Initially playing in defence and struggling to make an impact, it wasn't until GWS coach Kevin Sheedy moved him into the forward line that his performances improved, including 4 goals in a game against Queanbeyan Football Club.
At the start of the season Israel Folau was chosen to be one of 10 players announced by the AFL as that year's Multicultural Ambassadors. The then AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou remarked "We’re genuinely excited to provide 10 players with the opportunity to become leaders in the community, promoting the benefits of inclusion and diversity."
Folau gave up on his AFL career at the end of the 2012 season, and although his time playing AFL on-field has been described as a failure, he is also credited with helping to establish the Giants in Western Sydney.
Rugby union career
New South Wales Waratahs
In December 2012, it was announced that Folau, changing sports again, had joined Australian rugby union team the New South Wales Waratahs for the 2013 Super Rugby season. Melbourne Rebels Coach Damien Hill said he was sceptical about how the Waratahs, or any Super Rugby club, could fit Folau under the salary cap. Folau's potential positive impact in rugby union has been likened by several players and coaches to that of fellow league-turned-rugby star Sonny Bill Williams.
Speaking in early in 2013 about his Waratahs pre-season training, Folau said he was training at both fullback and wing. Folau also said he welcomed the advice and mentorship of dual international and former Waratah Lote Tuqiri regarding the switch between league and union. Folau scored two tries in a pre-season match against Australian conference rivals, the Melbourne Rebels.
In July 2015, he signed a deal to play for NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes in the Japanese Top League. However, Folau did not play for the club due to injury and the relegation of the team to the Japanese second division.
International rugby union career
Folau made his international debut for Australia against the British & Irish Lions on the 2013 British & Irish Lions tour of Australia. Folau, scoring the first try of the game in game I of the series, scored twice on 22 June at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, Queensland.
Folau has five siblings, a sister and four brothers. Folau is the older brother of John Folau, who is also a rugby union player.
Folau grew up as a Mormon, but moved to being an active member of the Assemblies of God Christian fellowship in 2011. His father, Eni Folau, is a pastor. Folau has credited his relationship with God as a reason for his athletic success in the NRL, AFL and rugby union. In a 2017 article for Players Voice, Folau wrote that he reads the Bible every day and that faith in Jesus Christ is the "cornerstone of every single thing in my life" and "I believe that it is a loving gesture to share passages from the Bible with others. I do it all the time when people ask me questions about my faith or things relating to their lives, whether that's in-person or on my social media accounts." Folau is nontrinitarian. He has been described as a fundamentalist Christian.
In March 2015 Israel Folau, playing for the New South Wales Waratahs Rugby team, told ABC radio that there was no room for homophobia in the game, amidst allegations of homophobic sledging originating from a player on his team, and denied there was homophobia in his club.
In 2017, the Turnbull government called a national postal survey on the question of changing Australian law to recognise same-sex marriage. In September, the ARU management declared the Wallabies in support of the change, prompting Folau to announce his personal opposition a day later on Twitter, where he wrote: "I love and respect all people for who they are and their opinions. but personally, I will not support gay marriage." Folau later wrote in Players Voice: "I didn't agree with Bill Pulver taking a stance on the same sex marriage vote on behalf of the whole organisation, but I understand the reasons behind why he did."
Folau's religious views became a subject of controversy in April 2018, when a follower of his Instagram account asked him what God's "plan for homosexuals" was, and Folau replied: "Hell.. unless they repent of their sins and turn to God."
Folau later wrote in Players Voice "My response to the question is what I believe God's plan is for all sinners, according to my understanding of my Bible teachings, specifically 1 Corinthians 6:9–10". The tweet led to accusations of homophobia against Folau and of religious discrimination against him by accusers. The Wallabies chief sponsor Qantas condemned Folau's comments, announcing: "We've made clear to Rugby Australia that we find the comments very disappointing." Rugby Australia's CEO, Raelene Castle, said that they accepted Folau's position, though they did not agree with his views, and he would not be sanctioned by the organisation.
Folau wrote: "Since my social media posts were publicised, it has been suggested that I am homophobic and bigoted and that I have a problem with gay people. This could not be further from the truth. I fronted the cover of the Star Observer magazine to show my support for the Bingham Cup, which is an international gay rugby competition for both men and women. I believe in inclusion. In my heart, I know I do not have any phobia towards anyone."
Gender optional birth certificates
On Wednesday, 10 April 2019, the Tasmanian Parliament passed amendments to the Birth, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act to allow gender to be changed on Birth Certificates by a simple statutory declaration. Later on that day on his personal Twitter account, Folau posted a screenshot of the news headline that read: "Tasmania becomes first Australian jurisdiction to make gender optional on birth certificates". Folau then tweeted: 'The devil has blinded so many people in this world. Repent and turn away from your evil ways. Turn to Jesus Christ who will set you free".
In response, Andy Brennan, Australia's only openly gay male professional soccer player, said "If I was 16 years old and reading what he said, it would have made me feel awful", and "You can't let negativity win, otherwise what [Folau] says wins."
Some hours later, in his personal Instagram account, Folau posted a screenshot of a meme, quoting 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 "WARNING Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolators HELL AWAITS YOU. REPENT! ONLY JESUS SAVES”. Folau, in the same Instagram post also quoted Galatians 5:19-21, and two verses on repentance, salvation and justification, Acts 2:38 and Acts 17:30. Rugby Australia immediately denounced the post as homophobic. The next day, (11 April 2019) Rugby Australia announced their intention to terminate his contract "in the absence of compelling mitigating factors", and said they had been unable to contact him. Folau's post and the actions of Rugby Australia divided opinion amongst players and supporters and ignited a human rights debate across Australia, with Rugby Australia arguing its "inclusiveness" policy had been breached, and others calling for tolerance of the expression of religious views. Ahead of his disciplinary hearing, Folau expressed a determination to continue playing rugby, while still holding to his beliefs.
Qantas is the main sponsor sponsor of Rugby Australia. Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas, has said, "we don’t sponsor something to get involved in controversy." NSW politician Mark Latham has said, "there's no doubt Folau was sacked by Qantas".
Delivering a sermon at his church on Easter Sunday at the height of the controversy, he broke down while recalling the words from the Bible, Matthew 16:26, "For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?"
Folau, in a church sermon, said that the devil is behind primary school children being allowed to decide if they wanted to change gender by taking away the permission of their parents. He also said homosexuality is a sin.
In November 2019, Folau was criticised following his preaching in regards to same-sex marriage and abortion. Quoting from the Book of Isaiah he said he believes the scripture is talking to Australia, and said, "Look how rapid these bushfires, these droughts, have come in a short period of time. Do you think it’s a coincidence or not? God is speaking to you guys." In response, the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described Folau's remarks as "appallingly insensitive".
In May 2019 a Code of Conduct hearing was undertaken, during which the CEO of Rugby Australia, Raelene Castle, suggested she would have terminated Folau’s contract if he had "photocopied Bible passages" and posted them to his social media. Folau was found to have breached Rugby Australia's code of conduct, and later that month he lost a sponsorship deal with ASICS. On 17 May 2019, his 4-year employment contract with Rugby Australia was terminated early, ending his career with the Waratahs and the Wallabies.
On 6 June 2019, Folau launched legal proceedings with the Fair Work Commission against Rugby Australia and the Waratahs under section 772 of the Fair Work Act, which makes it unlawful to terminate employment on the basis of religion. Folau launched a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign in mid-June and sought to raise $3 million to cover his legal costs. Some of his former teammates described Folau's appeal as selfish and greedy. Folau was also criticised for seeking crowdfunded money despite accumulating a multi-million dollar fortune. The appeal included a statement that "there will be no obligations on Israel Folau to ... apply the funds in any particular way". On 24 June 2019, GoFundMe shut down Folau's fundraising campaign, stating that it violated GoFundMe's terms of service by promoting discrimination or exclusion, and that all donations would be refunded. In a response to the termination of Folau's GoFundMe campaign, the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) announced on 25 June 2019 that it was donating $100,000 to Folau, was setting up an alternate donation site, and that any funds raised would only be used for his legal costs. The second campaign raised over $2 million in two days before being paused by the ACL with Folau's consent.
On 19 July 2019, the Fair Work Commission issued a certificate confirming all reasonable attempts to resolve the dispute between Folau and Rugby Australia had been unsuccessful. On 1 August 2019, Folau launched legal action in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, against RA and NSW Rugby for unlawful termination on the basis of religion, breach of contract and restraint of trade. Folau sought an apology, compensation, penalties and the right to play rugby union again.
In December 2019, the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW decided to investigate a complaint that Folau had engaged in homosexuality vilification.
National Rugby League Records
- 2007: Most Tries in a Debut Season (21)
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- "Club Records - Official Site of Melbourne Storm- News, video, fixture, tickets, membership". Archived from the original on 18 October 2011.
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- Ross, Livermore (2007). "Australian Rugby Football League Annual Report 2007" (PDF). Australian Rugby League Limited. p. 9. Retrieved 15 July 2009.
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Folau, a fundamentalist Christian
- Hytner, Mike (17 May 2019). "Israel Folau sacked over social media posts after panel rules in favour of Rugby Australia". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 June 2019.
fundamentalist Christian Folau
- "Folau comments create headaches for RA, Cheika ahead of World Cup". Reuters. 11 April 2019. Retrieved 24 June 2019.
Folau, a fundamentalist Christian
- Norman, James (24 March 2015). "Brave David Pocock should be lauded for propagating cultural change". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 June 2019.
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- I’m a sinner too; www.playersvoice.com.au
- "Israel Folau urges to 'repent' for optional gender on birth certificates". Gay Star News. 13 April 2019.
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- "Democracy, Freedom and the Shibboleth of Gay Sex". 15 May 2019.
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- "Bible Gateway passage: Matthew 16:26 - King James Version". Bible Gateway.
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- "Israel Folau claims bushfires and drought are God's punishment for same-sex marriage". 9news. 18 November 2019. Retrieved 27 November 2019.
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- "Isaiah 24:5-6". Retrieved 28 November 2019.
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- Gremore, Graham (18 November 2019). "Homophobic rugby player says there wouldn't be wildfires if gay people just stopped existing". Queerty. Retrieved 25 November 2019.
- "Rugby Australia Says Bible Itself Is the 'Problem' in Stunning Admission About Israel Folau's Firing". Faithwire. 8 July 2019.
- "Israel Folau found guilty of breaching Rugby Australia's code of conduct". bbc.co.uk. 7 May 2019.
- "Israel Folau loses Asics sponsorship deal after breaching code of conduct". bbc.co.uk. 8 May 2019.
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- "'I have the fight of my life on my hands': Folau seeks $3m in donations for legal case". ABC News. 21 June 2019. Retrieved 21 June 2019.
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- Martyn Iles (25 June 2019). "ACL Donates $100,000 to Israel Folau, Launches Alternative Fundraising Site". Australian Christian Lobby. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
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- "'Pause button' hit after Folau's Christian Lobby fund passes $2m mark". Sydney Morning Herald. 27 June 2019. Retrieved 27 June 2019.
- Mark, David. "Israel Folau's case is heading to the courts — so what happens now?". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 20 July 2019.
- Maiden, Samantha. "Talks break down once and for all between Israel Folau and Rugby Australia". The New Daily. Retrieved 20 July 2019.
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- "Sacked rugby player Folau ups compensation demand". BBC News. 27 November 2019.
- "Sacked rugby player Folau settles anti-gay case". 4 December 2019 – via www.bbc.co.uk.
- Drape, Julian (13 December 2019). "NSW board accepts complaint against Folau". The Sydney Morning Herald.
- "Stand up and take a bow, Israel Folau". The Age. 28 November 2007.
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