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.
Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Beattie denies the decision to suspend Tonga's international membership was based on an attempt to block Folau's return to the code.
"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 will not be considered by the Mate Ma'a and a host of NRL stars including Jason Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita and Siosiua Taukeiaho will abandon plans to boycott the World Nines and upcoming Tests after a dramatic meeting of the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) board on Thursday.
The international governing body voted to suspend the Tongan National Rugby League's membership, siding with the country's players and the Pacific Island nation's government in a bitter dispute.
The RLIF is expected to appoint an interim board in the coming days. The country's clubs have registered Tonga Ma'a Tonga Rugby League, which has the backing of the Tonga Sports Council and the nation's NRL players, and it is expected to take over the administration of the Mate Ma'a.
Kristian Woolf, whose sacking led to 27 players threatening to refuse to turn out for the Mate Ma'a and calling for the TNRL board to stand down, will also be reinstated.
Given Woolf has the likes of Will Hopoate, Michael Jennings, Daniel Tupou, Kotoni Staggs and David Fusitu'a at his disposal, Folau will not be considered for selection.
While the result of the RLIF's decision is that Folau's return to league will be blocked, ARLC chairman and RLIF deputy chairman Beattie said that was never the intention.
"Israel Folau's name wasn't even mentioned. Because this has never been about him, it's been about resolving this internaldispute in Tonga," Beattie said.
"We want Tonga's best team on the park and we support the NRL's best Tongan players."
The TNRL now has seven days to launch an appeal.
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.
Beattie 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.
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.
It's understood Folau, who had his Rugby Australia contract torn up earlier this year for social media posts in which he said that "hell" awaited homosexuals, will not be considered for selection by Woolf given he has strong backline candidates at his disposal.
Beattie said the decision was not based on trying to block Folau's return to rugby league.
It was designed to ensure the game capitalises on Tonga's progress as a Test nation since their 2017 World Cup semi-final appearance.
"Israel Folau's name wasn't even mentioned, this has never been about him," Beattie said.
"It's been about resolving this internal dispute in Tonga."
The TNRL now have seven days to appeal their decision and it's expected the matter will end up in the courts.