Gay pride banner removed at Folau game
Security guards forced fans to take down a rainbow banner at Israel Folau's first match of rugby league in a decade.
Two fans were asked to take down the banner early on Sunday morning Australian time, which was in protest of Folau's anti gay Instagram post that caused his exile from Australian rugby.
Folau's new team the Catalans Dragons confirmed the pair were asked to take the banner down, but said they would have a full security report on Monday.
His new coach Steve McNamara dismissed questions about whether the banner should have been removed, after the fans were told it was for "health and safety reasons".
"I'm here to talk about football, not about political or religious views or whatever else it may be," he said.
"I'm here to talk about rugby league, that's what I know that's what I do."
The club's spokesman tried to shut down talk about Folau's off field controversy amid repeated questions at a post match media conference.
He stopped and received a warm welcome from the local crowd after the game, as he picked out and paid tribute to his wife Maria who was in the stands.
Maria, who stood by him during his multi-million legal fight with Rugby Australia, told News Corp Australia his hard work had been rewarded.
"He did so well. I'm so proud of him," she said.
"I'm glad he's come back to the game he grew up loving. He's trained really hard."
Folau played a full game in his first professional hit out since April last year, when he the controversy around his "hell awaits gay people" post kicked off.
His teammate James Maloney, who joined Catalans Dragons after 250 NRL games, did not buy into questions about Folau's off field statements.
"My opinion is my opinion and I don't need to voice it. Everyone can make their own decisions on how they think about things, that's not my position to try and tell them how they feel," he said.
"Everyone will have different responses and they're entitled to that."
Folau made some strong tackles, playing in the centres throughout the match.
But he looked like he was struggling about an hour into the game, often stopping to catch his breath and at one point putting his hands on his hips.
He managed to escape without injury, despite only training with the team for two weeks before the game.
McNamara said Folau was nervous in the change rooms.
"I thought he played really well, obviously scoring with his first touch settled his nerves," he said.
"He was nervous before the game, I was probably most impressed with his defence."
McNamara bristled at questions about Folau's anti-gay comments.
"You're judging him on a headline, on what you've seen social media wise, you're judging him on that, you shouldn't be judging him on that," he said.
"When I go to sign a player, I'm talking from a football perspective I go to sign a player I work out what type of person he is.
"Is he a good person, is he a good player, will he add value to the team, not judging him on any political or religious belief that he's got.
"We quite clearly do not agree with it."
Catalans chairman Bernard Guasch told News Corp Australia before the match that he was excited to see Folau play.
"This is a fantastic day for rugby league," he said.
"Israel is a fantastic player, the principal today is rugby and he plays rugby very well."
When asked about Folau's anti-gay comments that made him a cut price recruit for the Catalans, Guasch replied: "It's okay, there's no problem here."