Folau cheered, returns with a bang
Former Wallaby Israel Folau, who was sacked last May by Rugby Australia over a homophobic social media post, scored on his Super League debut in Catalans Dragons' 36-18 Super League win over Castleford this morning (AEDT).
Folau, 30, who joined the French side on January 28, crossed after just six minutes with his first touch of the game having caught a crossfield bomb.
His name was cheered when it was read out on the sound system at Stade Gilbert Brutus pre-match.
Folau, who was playing his first rugby league match in 10 years and lined up in the centres, followed Sam Tomkins' early try in the south of France.
When he crossed the stripe, local fans chanted his name and the Dragons faithful were on their feet every time the dual-code superstar touched the ball.
Folau almost repeated his try-scoring feat half an hour into the proceedings after claiming a ball in the air but was a yard short of the tryline before he was tackled.
More than 8000 fans were present as the hosts claimed their maiden win of the campaign in Folau's first game since featuring for Australian rugby union side the Waratahs last April.
However, his arrival in Super League has been met with condemnation from other clubs and sparked a rule change to allow the competition to prevent "controversial signings" in the future.
Folau, a dual code international, was fired by Rugby Australia after saying "hell awaits" gay people and others he considers sinners.
Folau's impressive return to the 13-man code came after he considered quitting footy altogether during his enforced exile from top-level sport.
"Yes of course I thought about ending my career and to do other things," Folau told Perpignan newspaper L'Independant before Catalans' match against Castleford.
"I thank the president and my coach for this opportunity they have given me. It's like a new start for me and I am very excited to return to the sport in which I became known.
"I haven't played 13-a-side for 10 years, so I am also pretty nervous. But the environment is favourable, between the staff and the players, so that I can give my best.
"I am here to be competitive, to play rugby league and be consistent with my performances for the team. It's great to come back in a new team environment and to find a training routine with the others, but the most important thing is to give the best for my team."
The world's media descended on Stade Gilbert Brutus but any attempt by Castleford to steal the headlines were thwarted as early as the second minute when former NRL star James Maloney found a gap for Tomkins to stride under the posts.
Then Folau struck when he collected a high kick from Josh Drinkwater to touch down and Maloney's conversion made it 12-0 with just six minutes on the clock. Castleford winger Derrell Olpherts hit back with an 80-metre dash from a clever in-goal collect and re-start by halfback Danny Richardson, who then converted Olpherts' try from in front of the posts.
A Maloney penalty in front of the posts after 24 minutes put Les Dracs back on track and 10 minutes from halftime, Tomkins fielded a high kick 10 metres from his own line, found winger Fouad Yaha who raced 60 metres and released centre Samisoni Langi for a stunning try.
Castleford hit back just before the interval, two successive penalties putting centre Cheyse Blair in space on the right, Richardson's conversion making it 20-12.
The Dragons withstood early pressure from the visitors after the break with some solid defence and with Maloney marshalling the troops, Catalans capitalised on a penalty 20 metres out.
The ball was moved to the left where Tomkins twisted and turned over the line, Maloney scraping the post with his conversion to put the Dragons in the driving seat at 26-12.
Olpherts was sin-binned for delaying a quick re-start from Tomkins and 12-man Castleford struggled to contain the Dragons, despite Richardson's best efforts. When Tomkins released Langi, it was Yaha who again capitalised with a try on the left, too far out for Maloney to add the conversion.
At 30-12 the Dragons sensed victory but Richardson's 40-metre dash up the middle of the pitch and pass to winger James Clare clawed back some points for the Tigers, adding the conversion to make it 30-18.
Boosted by the return of Olpherts from the sin bin, Castleford made the most of a ball-spill by Benjamin Garcia and pressed hard on the Dragons line but could not find a way through some resolute defence.
An attempted drop-goal by Tomkins was wide of the mark but when Sam Kasiano returned to the fray, Catalans pushed for the finish. Man of the match Tomkins again was chief tormentor with a late try that bamboozled the Tigers defence and Maloney's conversion wrapped things up at 36-18.