Rugby League: International board suspends Tonga with Israel Folau return all but over

Israel Folau's hopes of returning to rugby league are over, after the Tongan National Rugby League's (TNRL) international membership was suspended.

During a phone conference on Thursday night, the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) board voted to cancel the TNRL's registration. 

The decision ensures top players including Jason Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita and Will Hopoate will abandon plans to boycott upcoming tests against Australia and Great Britain, and the World Nines.

Kristian Woolf, who was sacked as coach last month, is also expected to be reinstated.

The RLIF is expected to endorse the Tonga Ma'a Tonga Rugby League, which is backed by the Tongan Sports Council, and supported by the players and Tongan government.

The NRL, which controls the World Nines, has said Tonga will not be allowed to play in the October 18-19 event unless an interim board takes over the national side.

The issue came to a head when a group of players threatened to boycott the Mate Ma'a, unless TNRL chairman George Koloamatangi and secretary William Edwards stood down.

The players listed several grievances, including Woolf's sacking via email and the failure to distribute funds to the game's grassroots in Tonga.

This week, Tongan Prime Minister Semisi Sika wrote to the RLIF to say that the TNRL had lost the support of the national government and the country's clubs.

In a last-ditch effort to garner support, the TNRL announced that Folau and brother John would be selected for the upcoming end-of-year tests.

This is despite Folau having not played since rugby league since 2010, when he walked out on the game for a stint in the AFL.

Folau will reportedly not be considered for selection by Woolf, given he has strong backline candidates at his disposal.

ARLC chairman and RLIF deputy chairman Peter Beattie said the decision was not based on trying to block Folau's return to rugby league.

It was designed to ensure the game capitalises on Tonga's progress as a test nation, since their 2017 World Cup semi-final appearance.

"Israel Folau's name wasn't even mentioned, this has never been about him," Beattie said.

"It's been about resolving this internal dispute in Tonga."

The TNRL now have seven days to appeal their decision, and it's expected the matter will end up in the courts.

Join us on October 26 for live updates of Tonga v Great Britain rugby league test