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Israel Folau is welcome to play with the Tongan rugby league team, with senior players having even discussed parachuting the sacked Wallaby straight back in for the World Cup 9s last year.
Andrew Fifita, one of the key stars who defected from Australia to Tonga before the 2017 World Cup and helped turn the tiny Pacific nation into a league powerhouse, revealed the Tongan players were not keen on Folau playing in the end-of-season Tests, but felt the Nines was the perfect tournament for him to return and help the country's young backs.
Fifita said he had no issues with the code-hopper playing for the Mate Ma'a Tonga as early as the middle of this year in the proposed Test against Fiji.
When the Tongan players refused to play following a bust-up with their national board late last season, Folau crossed the picket line and made himself available for the officials who were later suspended by the Rugby League International Federation.
Fifita was prepared to ignore that fact, and only hoped the 30-year-old could refrain from future homophobic ''crazy" social media posts that cost him his rugby career.
"We had a group chat at the time and we said, 'If he's in, let him play in the Nines'," Fifita said. "We had a lot of young boys who hadn't even experienced under-20s. We had a forward pack full of experience but a backline full of young pups, and we could have done with his experience. He was going to get sprayed no matter what, but for a good stepping stone, it was the Nines.
"I don't agree with some of the terms he’s come out with and said, but football is football and, mate, I’ve done a lot of things in my past and I know all can be forgiven.
"For myself, it’s been adversity, adversity, adversity, then next thing you know, one year on, I've come back and captained my club [for one game]. There's always room for forgiveness.
"He can't come out with those crazy posts again. I'm all for God as well but in saying that, everyone in life deserves to be happy.
"When we're talking about gays and lesbians, I got one who's close to me in my sisters, I got family who are also gay and they've got the right to be happy. If he has a really good year, the international jersey will be waiting for him."
The NRL were quick to block any move for Folau to return to the NRL while his time out of the game made it easy for Tongan coach Kristian Woolf to pass on the polarising star. With Woolf now coaching St Helens in the Super League, Fifita said the coach would get a close-up look of the potential outside back in the countdown to next year's World Cup where Tonga are more than a live chance of being crowned global champions.
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