Folau wasn’t selected in Sunday’s squad to face Wakefield in a game that was postponed because of the impact of Storm Caira, but he has been training with his team-mates and coach Steve McNamara has been impressed with his physical condition.
The reaction to the 30-year-old former Kangaroos, Wallabies and Australian football star’s return to professional sport has been more muted in the south of France than the media storm in the UK and down under. His new team-mates at Stade Gilbert Brutus have welcomed him with open arms, with many expressing their eagerness to play alongside him.
As a media lockdown was called by the club last week to try to control the controversy it was not possible to speak to current players, but former Dragons star Greg Bird opened up about Folau’s arrival and he told League Express: “It’s a new life in a new country with new languages and cultures, and there’s no better place to start again.”
The 35-year-old Australian international and Origin star has had two stints in Perpignan following controversies of his own back in Australia and he believes it is the perfect place for Folau to resume his playing career. Bird has taken up a two-year coaching option in his current contract after hanging up his playing boots at the end of last season.
He told League Express: “The beauty of playing here in France is that you’re out of the bubble in Australia or the UK. It’s the perfect environment for redemption and rehabilitation. When you get time off you meet people who may not know about the past and it’s refreshing. I don’t think people in this area care too much about social media and stories in the press, so it makes it a little easier for players who’ve had troubles.
“If you’ve done wrong, you pay the price, but you cannot be punished every day for the rest of your life. I can’t speak for Israel and how he’s going to approach things, but I’m sure he’ll do the same as I did, just getting out there on the football pitch and making whatever’s happened in the past exactly that, make it history.
“When you start playing football every week, pretty soon no-one cares what happened nine months ago. I’m sure he’ll take the same attitude as I did and put the dramas in the past. Once we get a big crowd in here at the Brutus and we get a few wins under our belt people will soon forget the back story.
“For someone like Israel, with his professional attitude, it’s the perfect place to start again.”
Bird and Folau go way back – even beginning their international careers together: “We debuted for Australia at the same time, a long time ago,” said Bird.
“I was at six and he was on the wing. He’s an incredible athlete, I’d go looking for him with the ball and he’d be six feet up in the air. He’s an incredible footballer at both union and League and he’s dominated the game in both codes.
“I’ve spoken to Israel a few times since he joined us and he’s a good communicator. It’s not just his physical abilities, it’s the benefits he brings to the whole squad. He’s not here just to play footy, he’s here to help the squad and improve standards. He’s a real professional and some of the young outside backs like Arthur Romano and Fouad Yaha will learn a lot from him.”