The mastermind behind Israel Folau’s Japanese Top League team signing is confident local fans will embrace the sportsman despite his controversial views.
Kiwi Rob Penney, NTT Communications’ new director of rugby, told the Sydney Morning Herald Folau’s switch to rugby union made sense, and that he would be popular with teammates and the public.
“He’s a world class player, still got a bit of petrol in the tank and he’ll make a massive contribution up there. The Japanese people will really embrace him for his sporting prowess,” Penney said.
Fox Sports Australia reported yesterday Folau has signed a two-year deal with NTT Communications.
It comes two years after Folau made a well-documented exit from rugby union when his contract with Rugby Australia was ripped up after he made anti-gay social media posts.
Penney said he suspected Folau had learnt from his past.
“Hopefully, that is the case and let’s just get on and let the man play a game he’s gifted in.”
Folau returned to the headlines recently with a bid to return to the Australian rugby league scene by joining the Southport Tigers in Queensland.
The return was a bumpy affair with Queensland Rugby League not clearing his registration due to his existing contract with Super League club Catalans who signed him after his 2019 exit from Australia. The issue was resolved last week with Catalans confirming they have now released Folau.
Fox Sports Australia reports Folau’s contract with NTT Communications is understood to be worth less than half of what he was earning at Rugby Australia, where he was on more than $1 million per season.
However, as the Top League season runs from mid-January to the end of May, there may be options for Folau to play league in Australia for the remainder of the year.
Folau would join his Japanese teammates at some point between mid-August and mid-November for the Top League’s pre-season, Penney said.
Penney took up the role after being sacked from the NSW Waratahs in March after five straight losses this year.