With his options in Australia running out, Israel Folau has opened talks with the British Rugby League’s New York franchise.
With his options in Australia running out, Israel Folau has opened talks with the British Rugby League’s New York franchise.

Folau targets escape to New York

The New York rugby league franchise has begun discussions with Israel Folau about the rugby outcast becoming the club's first marquee signing.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal New York chief executive Ricky Wilby made his pitch during a phone call with Folau.

It could be the most significant phone call made in rugby league for 2020.

Folau learned of the New Jersey-based club's interest in him in an exclusive Daily Telegraph report on December 19.

Wilby has not made an offer to Folau but will follow up their initial conversation in coming weeks.

With no options in Australia, New York makes sense for Folau. Photo: AAP Image/David Crosling
With no options in Australia, New York makes sense for Folau. Photo: AAP Image/David Crosling

New York officials believe Folau's request for an introductory call with Wilby showed a preliminary interest in joining New York.

Folau hasn't ruled out a move to North America but there are still significant obstacles to overcome before any deal can be secured. Folau last month reached a confidential settlement with Rugby Australia after his contract was terminated for a social media post in which he said "hell awaits'' homosexuals and other sinners.

He does not have a manager but Wilby also spoke to one of Folau's close associates in another phone call.

British ruby league will expand its footprint in the US with New York poised to enter a third tier League One competition next year.

Would Folau be able to leave controversy behind? Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images
Would Folau be able to leave controversy behind? Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

New York is also planning to enter a team in next year's English Challenge Cup.

Final approval from Britain's RFL could be just weeks away.

"It was an introductory call to explain the community ethos behind the club and about how we will engage with all groups across the New York area," Wilby told The Daily Telegraph.

"We also spoke about how we want to grow the team and game organically in the United States and how the large foundations of what this club will be built on will be community-based. But I don't want to people to think we have automatically signed him."

It is understood the New York boss discussed the fledgling club's values and how he wants to ensure Folau would "buy into" the franchise.

Wilby talked about New York's vision and principles and spoke about the club's push for Folau to promote rugby league at local schools and the New York and New Jersey communities.

New York would also discuss whether Folau wanted to post any further homophobic comments to social media - as he did before being sacked by Rugby Australia last year.

New York has a strong and vocal LGBTQ community with the new club keen to entice the group to rugby league.

It is understood Folau - still aged just 30 - is also considering other playing options.

The NRL has refused to allow Folau back into Australian rugby league with New York monitoring any feedback from potential fans about approaching the former Wallaby.

While it would be cheaper to base the club in England and fly to New York for home games, franchise officials want the team to be based in the US to ensure maximum interaction with the community, sponsors and fans.

Once approved, New York officials hope to launch the new club in New Jersey late next month.

New York will try to follow the Toronto Wolfpack's model, winning promotion for two successive seasons from League One, through The Championship and into Super League for 2022.

Fellow former NRL superstar Sonny Bill Williams has joined Toronto. He will be available for the Canadian club's first Super League game on February 2 against Castleford in Leeds.



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