Rugby league: 'Grateful' Israel Folau excited about new Super League adventure in France

Controversial cross-code superstar Israel Folau says he is "grateful" the Catalans Dragons have offered him a career lifeline.

Blackballed from the 15-man code after his divorce from Rugby Australia last year, Folau's career was in limbo.

The 30-year-old's claim on social media that "hell awaits gays" caused a global backlash and subsequent comments based on Folau's religious beliefs led to his employers tearing up his contract.

Folau and Rugby Australia agreed to a financial settlement, after the former Wallaby sued for discrimination, but his rugby aspirations were effectively over.

Both the NRL and AFL distanced themselves from Folau as well, but last month, the French Super League club confirmed it had signed Folau on a one-year deal.

The announcement was met with near-unanimous disdain from other clubs, but Catalans management stand by their decision. 

Speaking publicly for the first time since inking the deal, Folau has thanked his new club for taking a punt on him.

"I am very grateful for the opportunity," Folau told Sky Sports UK, in his first interview since joining the club. "I'm excited to be back playing the game that I grew up playing. 

"It's been 10 years since I last played rugby league and I'm grateful for the opportunity to be part of a great organisation, a great team in the Catalans Dragons."

Coach Steve McNamara insists he fully supports chairman Bernard Guasch's decision to recruit Folau, describing it as a major coup for rugby league.

"We knew it would be controversial," McNamara said. "An opportunity arose, when an overseas player left our club, we needed an outside back.

"We looked in France, England and overseas. We went down the route of investigating a fair few players and Israel was on that list.

"Having spent a lot of time speaking to him and understanding him a lot more, and getting the reassurances we did, we made a decision, as a club, that we would support the signing of Israel and give him another opportunity in our game."

Folau and his wife, former Silver Ferns netballer Maria Folau, will live in the French city of Perpignan during his stay in France.

The former NRL and AFL star said they were excited to experience a different culture. 

"It's very different, something totally different to what I'm used to," Folau said, after arriving in Perpignan.

"My wife and I were very excited from the day we landed here. We're embracing something new and different.

"The culture is amazing and we're looking forward to getting to learn to speak the language here, and also embrace the people here and how awesome this place is."

But despite Folau's positivity, his signing is still a topic of discontent among rival Super League clubs. 

According to the BBC, Hull Kingston Rovers have threatened legal action, claiming his recruitment was a divisive act, while the Wigan Warriors have confirmed their March fixture with Catalans would be 'Pride Day', with LBGTQ+ groups encouraged to attend and promote equality in sport.