Israel Folau is promising to refrain from publicly expressing his controversial religious beliefs after signing a one-year deal with French league club Catalans Dragons.

Rugby Australia reached a settlement agreement in December after terminating Folau's $4 million contract last May for repeated code of conduct breaches.

The 73-test Wallabies star made several offensive social media posts, one in which he said hell awaits "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters".

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Last November Folau then linked bushfires in New South Wales and drought to Australia's decision to legalise same-sex marriage and abortion.

Two days out from the start of the Super League season, Folau told the Perpignan-based club's website: "I'm a proud Christian, my beliefs are personal, my intention is not to hurt anyone and I will not be making further public comment about them. I look forward to my return to the great game of rugby league with the Catalans Dragons."

In announcing the signing Dragons chairman, Bernard Guasch, confirmed the agreement of a virtual gag order on Folau's divisive religious views.

"We do not believe that those views should be publicly expressed, especially by a high-profile sports person," Guasch said. "We have a signed agreement with the RFL. Any transgression will trigger an immediate termination of Israel's contract and a substantial fine for the club.

"We want to give Israel a new opportunity to shine on the pitch. We do not support or agree with Israel's previously expressed and controversial views which are based upon his sincerely held religious belief."

Folau will be returning to rugby league with the Catalan Dragons. He is not allowed to publicly express his religious views while with the club. Photo / Getty
Folau will be returning to rugby league with the Catalan Dragons. He is not allowed to publicly express his religious views while with the club. Photo / Getty

Despite objections from the majority of rival Super League clubs the Rugby Football League, which has the power to reject all player registrations, did not stand in the way of Folau's signing.

Folau had a possible NRL return blocked by the Australia Rugby League Commission late last year.

At the time, ARLC chairman Peter V'landys said: "The game is inclusive. Israel's comments are not inclusive.

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"I have no tolerance for people that put other people's lives [at risk] or [commit] violence. It's a big statement to make. With due respect to Israel, what he says, young kids listen to. He is a role model. They act on it. And when you're a kid at school and you get bashed up because you're different, I don't think that's a good thing."

After approving Folau's signing, the RFL claimed it had been a difficult decision.

"The RFL places a high value on the sport's reputation in prioritising inclusion and diversity – and deplores the player's previous comments.

"However the moral responsibility for deciding whether to sign a player sits with individual clubs. The player has not been charged or found guilty of any criminal offence.

"However distasteful his previous comments, we don't believe that, under our current regulatory framework, these can prevent his participation in the sport.

"We have sought and received reassurances from both the player and the club regarding future behaviour. The RFL has taken and will continue to take action where any player breaches expected standards of behaviour while registered with a club, and comments that conflict with our commitment to inclusion and diversity across the game will not be tolerated."

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Super League chief executive Robert Elstone heavily criticised the move: "Super League deplores the homophobic comments Israel Folau has made in the past, which squarely contradict our sport's core values.

"I have sought the opinion of informed voices connected to our game, and the majority share my disappointment that one of our clubs has chosen to sign him.

"There is a strong feeling that the decision to sign him lets down many people connected to our sport. I made Catalans Dragons aware of those views."

Elstone outlined that Super League does not have the authority to veto the registration of players and was satisfied by the due diligence carried out by the Rugby Football League.

"Israel Folau is a free agent, who has the right to work, and he has not been charged or found guilty of any criminal offence. Catalans Dragons has assured Super League that strict guidelines are in place to prevent the player from repeating his comments.

"They have also assured us that his contract will be terminated immediately should he do so."

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In the wake of the Folau signing, Wigan Warriors immediately announced their round six fixture against Catalans on March 22 will now be Pride Day, as the Warriors look to support the LGBTQ+ community.

The game against the Dragons will see the club's players wear rainbow socks and laces with LGBTQ+ groups, both locally and nationally, invited to be part of the day.

The Super League competition kicks off on Thursday and Catalans were desperately seeking a replacement centre after releasing Fiji international Brayden Wiliame to join St George Illawarra.

Cronulla star Josh Dugan and South Sydney's Kiwi international Bryson Goodwin both turned down approaches from Catalans, which zeroed their focus in on Folau.

Folau will join Greg Bird and Sam Tomkins at the Steve McNamara-coached Dragons.

The 30-year-old is also set to square off against Sonny Bill Williams, who has signed a two-year contract with the Toronto Wolfpack, but the Australian's presence is sure to create an ongoing storm which threatens to overshadow the Super League season.

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