‘NRL can’t stop clubs negotiating with Folau’
NRL clubs privately believe Rugby Australia's out-of-court settlement with Israel Folau could legally persuade a nervous NRL to lift their ban on the former football star.
And a leading Sydney lawyer told The Daily Telegraph: "Mr Folau has shown he is prepared, if need be, to go to court and go to any length to defend his right to freedom of speech."
RA agreed to a confidential compensation package while also apologising to Folau, who was sacked after posting a religious message on social media.
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NRL clubs claim their governing body - fearing a possible legal backlash - would now have to consider allowing Folau back after Wednesday's settlement with RA or face accusations of discrimination.
"The NRL can't stop Folau playing and can't stop clubs negotiating with him," said an NRL coach.
The ARL Commission's position on Folau remains clear - he won't be permitted back into their code.
And new ARLC chairman, Peter V'landys, has strongly and vehemently vetoed any push allowing Folau a return to rugby league.
But coaches interviewed by The Daily Telegraph feel the NRL would become "a little anxious and apprehensive" about a possible legal drama should Folau publicly declare he was ready to play rugby league again.
Another successful NRL coach said: "The NRL would s..t itself if Folau wanted to come back. It would be interesting to see whether they could legally say no?
"Izzy has shown he isn't afraid to take on a sporting body in court. RA's settlement and apology shows to me that Izzy won that battle.
"Would the NRL risk being taken to court? Would they have the necessary spare cash to engage in what could be an expensive and damaging court case?
"All it would take would be one club to approach Folau. The NRL, under V'landys watch, will want to be strong but they would also have to listen to legal advice.
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"Would a club wanting to sign Folau take the NRL to court if denied? Probably not because there would be significant financial ramifications."
Experienced lawyer Paul McGirr admitted the NRL would be placed under pressure should Folau express a desire to return.
"If denied by the NRL, one could look at it and say he has been discriminated against because of his personal beliefs," McGirr said. "It would be interesting to see whether the NRL would support the proposition that Folau is entitled to ply his trade in the code.
"Mr Folau has shown he is prepared, if need be, to go to court and go to any length to defend his right to freedom of speech.
"It appears sponsors are chartering the course that these codes should take. These codes need strong leadership and to remember that they run the game and should embrace individuals standing up for their beliefs.
"That is what sport is all about and what we're trying to teach our kids.
"Would the NRL stand up and support freedom of speech? It certainly appears on the face of it that an apology (from RA) has been made to Mr Folau. That shouldn't be a reason - just because someone has the gumption to stand up for what he believes in - for a player to be denied the ability to ply his trade."
One betting agency has Folau paying $12 for a switch back to rugby league.