"Never say never."
That was Rugby Australia (RA) CEO Raelene Castle's surprise response when asked if it was clear Israel Folau's days of playing in Australia were finished.
"At the end of the day, his contract has ben terminated," she told reporters the day after agreeing to what's been reported as a multimillion-dollar settlement in an unfair dismissal case with the former Wallaby.
"It's clear to see our values are not aligned and the expectations that Rugby Australia would have of Israel coming back into the sport, would not be acceptable to him."
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Prompted for a more definitive answer, Castle said: "Never, say never, it'd be crazy for me to say that. What I'm saying is we have a value disalignment and at the end of the day I don't believe he would sign the current player contract which means he would have to be respectful with his social media use."
Castle found herself under attack after settling Folau's lawsuit but insists she "didn't back down" by agreeing to a payout. She said the agreed figure - which was confidential - was less than what it would have cost RA to go trial in February next year.
Earlier on Thursday, Castle had been forced to dispute a reported settlement figure of A$8 million, describing the claim as "wildly inaccurate". Additionally, Castle says RA won't have to make changes to the budget or take money away from community rugby to pay Folau.
Addressing media at RA HQ on Thursday, Castle said the national body was covered by insurance but couldn't discuss to what extent.
"We needed to give the game cost-certainty," Castle said. "The feedback we were getting from our rugby community was they wanted this matter settled. They want to go into the New Year with a clean slate knowing they can start talking about rugby again instead of talking about this case."
Once again, Castle stood by RA's decision to hold Folau to account regarding his controversial public opinions.
"We made the right decision in calling out Israel on his posts and inappropriate messaging, that remains the same," she said.
"We stick to our values that inclusiveness is core to the key of rugby. Taking this conversation further into a court situation was not helping the game."
Castle said she felt she was still the right person to lead RA, and backed the way she and the board had handled the matter.
"I do because at the end of the day this has been very difficult. There's not a business leader that leads an organisation that I've spoken to that hasn't looked at this situation and gone, 'this is a very difficult thing' … This is one of the most difficult issues a CEO could deal with in corporate Australia."
Folau claimed he was wrongfully dismissed by Rugby Australia and Rugby NSW after a controversial Instagram post in April condemning "drunks" and "homosexuals" and warning "hell awaits" them.
Folau is a hardline Christian who also recently claimed fatal bushfires were God's punishment for legalising abortion and same-sex marriage, sparking criticism from Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
How the Folau saga unfolded
11 April 2019
Folau weighs in on the gender birth certificate debate in Australia, saying again homosexuals will go to hell.
This follows after Tasmania became the first Australian jurisdiction to make gender an option on birth certificates. After the announcement, Folau took to Twitter to tell people to "turn away" from their evil ways after the announcement.
A short while later, Folau warned sinners would be going to hell unless they repented with this Instagram post:
Rugby Australia later confirmed it was investigating the comments, saying in a statement the posts were "unacceptable" and "disrespectful".
12 April 2019
Wallabies sponsor Qantas join the growing chorus of outrage at Folau's posts, saying the comments "clearly don't reflect the spirit of inclusion and diversity that we support".
15 April 2019
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika says he will not select Folau for the Wallabies after his "disrespectful" social media posts attacking gay people.
17 April 2019
It is revealed that Folau plans to contest any action taken by Rugby Australia and that the governing body could find itself in a precarious position, with major sponsors closely monitoring the ongoing saga.
19 April 2019
The panel for Folau's code of conduct hearing is confirmed, with John West QC the chairMAN. RA's Kate Eastman SC and Rugby Union Players' Association representative John Boultbee AM are announced as the other panellists as Folau fights to save his career.
3 May 2019
Video emerges of Folau fighting back tears while delivering a sermon at his church on Easter Sunday.
4 May 2019
Ian Roberts, the first Australian NRL player to publicly come out as gay, issues an emotional message to Folau warning that "literally kids in the suburbs are killing themselves" over remarks like Folau's.
7 May 2019
Folau is found guilty of high-level breach of Rugby Australia's code of conduct after a four-day hearing in Sydney.
8 May 2019
Folau says he's "at peace" with the verdict, according to outspoken Australian radio host and former Wallabies coach Alan Jones.
9 May 2019
Folau is dumped as brand ambassador by sportswear company ASICS over his homophobic comments.
10 May 2019
It is revealed that Folau turned down an offer of $1 million to walk away from his contract and that he refused to remove the social media posts when offered a lifeline by RA.
13 May 2019
Folau's relationship with long-time manager Isaac Moses is reportedly on the rocks, as the 30-year-old fullback "all but turned his back" on the man who has been in his corner since he was 14.
17 May 2019
Australian media report Folau will take RA to the Supreme Court if his $4 million contract is terminated.
17 May 2019
Folau's contract is terminated by RA, with chief executive Raelene Castle saying the outcome is a "painful situation for the game".
6 June 2019
Folau launches legal proceedings with the Fair Work Commission against Rugby Australia and the Waratahs. It is later reported that he is suing them for $10 million for "unfair dismissal".
27 November 2019
Folau lodges an updated statement of claim in the Federal Court, now demanding $14 million in damages from Rugby Australia, claiming he could have been captain of the Wallabies.
2 December 2019
Folau starts his legal battle against Rugby Australia with a mediation meeting at the Federal Court in Melbourne.
Folau and Rugby Australia announce that they have reached a settlement.