Folau's league bid falters as Tonga bosses suspended

Sydney (AFP) –


Sacked Wallaby star Israel Folau's bid to revive his career playing rugby league for Tonga hit a setback Friday when officials backing the plan were suspended over unrelated matters.

The Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) said it had suspended the board of Tonga's rugby league over concerns raised by players and the Pacific kingdom's prime minister.

"Based upon the volume and magnitude of representations received, the (RLIF) board decided that it needed to intervene immediately," it said in a statement released Friday.

Folau, fired by Rugby Australia over social media posts warning "hell awaits" gays and other sinners, had worked with the Tongan officials on a bold plan to play rugby league for the country in upcoming Tests against Australia and Britain.

But the 30-year-old appears to have unwittingly inserted himself into a bitter power struggle over control of the sport in Tonga, and ended up on the losing side.

As his former Wallabies teammates battle for the Rugby World Cup in Japan, Folau faces being frozen out of a second sporting code.

The Australian newspaper said the board suspension effectively left Folau's league bid "dead and buried", while the Sydney Morning Herald said it was "all but over".

Tonga's league players revolted when the board sacked coach Kristian Woolf last month in a dispute over finances, threatening to boycott upcoming internationals.

Tonga's Acting Prime Minister Semisi Sika wrote to the RLIF expressing concern over the situation and calling for the board to be stood down.

The situation was complicated this week when Folau announced his plan to join Tonga, blindsiding the RLIF by incorrectly claiming it had cleared him to play.

RLIF deputy director, Australia's Peter Beattie, has previously said that Folau "fails the NRL's inclusiveness culture" and would not be welcome in the sport.

Beattie supported on Friday supported suspending the Tonga board, which had been Folau's main backer.

"It is untenable for a national administration that doesn't have the support of its government or players to continue," he said.

Australia's National Rugby League reported on its website that Woolf and the dissident players were set to return as a result of the board's suspension.

Folau is seeking millions of dollars in damages from Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby, claiming he was unlawfully dismissed for expressing views consistent with his devout Christian beliefs.

The governing body says Folau breached a player code of conduct by making anti-gay comments on social media.