Israel Folau set to return to rugby after signing with Japanese club
Controversial ex-Wallabies star Israel Folau is set to return to rugby union after signing with Japanese club NTT Communications Shining Arcs.
The Top League side announced Folau as one of six new player signings, and one new staff signing, ahead of the revamped 2022 season on Monday.
The acquisition of Folau comes shortly after the code-hopping star was granted a release from French rugby league club Catalans Dragons to play for the Southport Tigers in the amateur Gold Coast Rugby League Premiership.
Folau has been playing in his second rugby league stint since he was was sacked by Rugby Australia [RA] in 2019 over social media posts that were deemed discriminatory towards the LBGTQ+ community.
The 32-year-old’s high-profile dismissal from RA’s payroll was monumental at the time given his status within Australian rugby circles.
A veteran of 73 test caps and a Super Rugby title-winner with the Waratahs, Folau will provide NTT Communications with a wealth of experience, but his signing is also likely to bring with it plenty of scrutiny and backlash.
Formerly regarded as one of the game’s best fullbacks, Folau will be joined at NTT Communications by a raft of other new faces, including Blues pivot Otere Black.
Blues head coach Leon MacDonald confirmed the 26-year-old first-five would leave the franchise to join a club in Japan shortly after the Blues claimed the inaugural Super Rugby Trans-Tasman title last month.
NTT Communications have now confirmed they are the club that Black, who starred in his final appearance for the Maori All Blacks during their 38-21 victory over Manu Samoa in Auckland on Saturday, has signed with.
The other new players signed by NTT Communications ahead of the 2022 season are Japan international James Moore, NEC Green Rockets lock Sam Jeffries, and Coca-Cola Red Sparks duo Brody Macaskill and Tone Tukufuka.
The Ichikawa-based side have also confirmed former Waratahs head coach Rob Penney will return to the club as director of rugby.
Penney was fired by the Waratahs just six rounds into the second year of his three-season deal with the New South Wales franchise following their winless start to the campaign.
BREAKING: Israel Folau signs for NTT Comms.
Otere Black and James Moore among other new players,
— Rich Freeman (@FreemanrugbyJPN) July 5, 2021
Despite Penney’s sacking early in the season, the Waratahs went on to lose all 13 of their matches this year, with many leading rugby figures criticising the franchise for using Penney as a scapegoat for the organisation’s shortcomings.
Having previously been the head coach of Muster, Canterbury, the New Zealand U20 side and the Shining Arcs, Penney will have plenty to offer in his new role in Japan.
NTT Communications finished fourth in their conference during the 2021 Top League season before being eliminated from the competition by the Canon Eagles in the second round of the play-offs.
The Top League is set to undergo a significant revamp for the 2022 season as it prepares to become a three-tiered, fully professional competition.
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