Sponsor of Israel Folau’s would-be team claims club was ‘stitched up’ in failed signing attempt debacle

Israel Folau was set to retire from rugby before new Catalans Dragons deal

The Australian rugby team involved in a failed attempt to sign Israel Folau were “stitched up” by the NRL, a corporate sponsor has claimed.

Folau, who was sacked in disgrace from Australia’s national team in 2019 for his homophobic comments, attempted to make a triumphant return to the Australian league by signing a deal with the St George Illawarra Dragons.

But just as an agreement appeared to be reached the team hastily abandoned talks, with fans and sponsors branding the player “a sh*tstorm waiting to happen”.

The Illawarra Dragons were guarded about their reasons for dropping the deal, but one of the club’s sponsors has hinted that it was an acrimonious decision.

Norm Black, the founder of TripADeal, dubbed the drama a “stitch up” and suggested the team had been hung out to dry by league bosses.

“Do you think they didn’t consult me or consult other sponsors long before this became a public stitch-up of the club and the CEO?” he asked The Sun Herald.

“The board was across all of this. I think they met twice and it was discussed with them. So [chief executive] Ryan Webb isn’t some kind of cowboy.

“But here is where I have an issue: I think the club was poorly treated and positioned by the NRL. They gave the club the rope and then they quietly hung us. There was never a firm no from the NRL.”

Instead, he says, the sporting body “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,” he claimed.

“They knew there was a restraint of trade or something similar at risk facing them.”

However it happened the news was likely a tough blow for Israel Folau, who has persistently maintained he was in the right to claim that “hell awaits” gay people, that the devil is to blame for transgender children and that bushfires are “God’s judgment” for same-sex marriage.