Israel Folau will make his Super League debut for Catalans Dragons against Castleford in Perpignan on Saturday.
The 30-year-old former Wallabies and Waratahs full-back or winger has not played since being sacked by Rugby Australia last May for posting homophobic comments on social media and it is 10 years since his last rugby league game.
But Folau was named in coach Steve McNamara’s 21-man squad 48 hours ahead of the match and the French club confirmed he will play.
🏉 21 MAN SQUAD
Steve McNamara a dévoilé le groupe pour la réception de @CTRLFC
💥 Israel Folau fera ses débuts samedi sous le maillot catalan
Folau, who has signed a 12-month contract with the Dragons, has had two weeks of training with his new team-mates and McNamara said this week “he looks in really good shape”.
Folau is a straight replacement for Brayden Wiliame – who left the club to return to the NRL – and has been given his old number four squad number.
His presence at the Stade Gilbert Brutus will heighten interest in the fixture after Folau’s signing was fiercely opposed by both Super League and the Rugby Football League as well as the majority of clubs.
The RFL said it was powerless to prevent his registration but Super League clubs voted at a meeting a week ago to implement measures to prevent such a controversial signing in future.
Folau’s inclusion in the squad came as no surprise to Castleford coach Daryl Powell, who says it will take time for the dual-code international to re-adjust to the 13-man game.
“He’s a good player, an outstanding player, it will be interesting to see how he fits back in,” said Powell, whose side were the first to go up against another dual-code international, Sonny Bill Williams, in their opening game of the season against Toronto.
“It does take a bit of time to adjust back to the game when you’ve been out so long. Sonny Bill saw that last week, although it is different when you’re playing in the outside backs.”
While Castleford are looking to make it three wins out of three at the start of the season, the pressure is on McNamara’s men to break their duck and Powell says he has plans to deal with Folau.
“We’re not specifically putting him under pressure but we have looked at him and how him coming in will impact them,” Powell added. “We’ve got some smart centres and it’ll be interesting to see what they throw up out on the edges.
“We’ve got to try and make him rusty. He’s a big, athletic player and he’s similar to Sonny Bill Williams in that there’s a bit of an unknown there. We’ve watched a lot of footage of him and we’re aware of that right foot step, which is really dominant.
“But it’s hard really. We’ve just got to focus on ourselves. We’ve had a look at him and them in their one game so far, and they haven’t got into a groove so it’s hard to work them out. He hasn’t played rugby league for 10 years so we want to see if he’s still any good at it.
“Our plans aren’t going to change too much; we think we know the way he’s going to play.”