Revealed: Broncos abandon secret plans to sign Folau
The Broncos have abandoned secret plans to sign Israel Folau amid fears of a multimillion-dollar backlash from Brisbane's blue-chip sponsorship stable.
News Corp can reveal Broncos bosses have gone cold on making a formal approach to Folau despite the Queensland Rugby League leaving the door ajar for the controversial code-hopper to return to rugby league in Australia.
It is understood Broncos powerbrokers have had internal discussions in recent weeks assessing the appetite to sign Folau following St George Illawarra's decision to abort the pursuit of the most polarising figure in Australian sport.
Brisbane chairman Karl Morris was open to the possibility of signing Folau and it is believed he sounded out a number of key stakeholders in recent days, including leading club sponsors Kia and Asics.
Sportswear giant Asics sensationally axed Folau as a brand ambassador in May 2019 in the wake of his homophobic comments on social media which led to his Rugby Australia contract being torn up.
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Brisbane's furtive interest reached the corridors of power at the Queensland Rugby League.
At last week's Broncos season launch, a Brisbane official asked QRL chairman Bruce Hatcher whether Queensland's governing body or the NRL were responsible for registering Folau's deal should he play in the Intrust Super Cup.
That inquiry was viewed as a sign the Broncos were ready to ramp-up plans by tabling a formal bid for Folau to appear at a second-tier feeder-club, but after talks with club sponsors, the chase for 'Izzy' is over.
Fears Brisbane's marquee sponsors would rescind millions of dollars in sponsorships have convinced club bosses to avert the potential political powderkeg of bringing Folau back to the Broncos.
Broncos board member Darren Lockyer, also a member of the club's recruitment-and-retention committee, said Brisbane could not take a risk on Folau given the NRL's stance on his potential registration.
"We've had recruitment meetings and his name was never mentioned," said Lockyer, who played with Folau at the Broncos in 2009-10.
"As a club, we haven't spoken about Izzy at this stage.
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"It could be something that might happen quickly if he was given permission by the NRL to play again, but we have a pretty good right-side centre in Kotoni Staggs.
"The NRL should give the clubs some certainty. The NRL are letting the clubs decide if they want to sign Israel, but it's a big risk for a club to start the process of signing Izzy if they were to ultimately get knocked back by the NRL.
"Look at the Dragons. For want of a better word, they took on the burden of signing Israel without knowing if they would get the green light (from the NRL).
"It would be easier if the NRL provided some clarity around whether Israel Folau would be given the green light … and then clubs could look to sign him."
The Intrust Super Cup has given other troubled stars a second chance, including now Broncos prop Matt Lodge and former Newcastle playmaker Jarrod Mullen, who will play for Sunshine Coast this season.
"I'd certainly be open to having the discussion about Israel playing in the Intrust Super Cup," QRL board member Ben Ikin said.
"That discussion would have to include testimony from QRL sponsors and Israel himself.
"What I won't be doing is making a rash judgment based on emotive public commentary."