Catalans have not given up hope of having Israel Folau back in 2021 but insist they will demand compensation if he makes a return to the NRL instead.
New centre signing Dean Whare has been allocated Folau’s number four shirt, even though he has yet to arrive in the country, but the Catalans say the door will remain open.
“The numbers aren’t really an issue for him,” said football manager Alex Chan, who is in constant dialogue with the player. “We still anticipate he’s going to return at some point.
“When, we’re not sure. At the moment, we don’t want to put any more pressure on him than he’s got already at home so we’ll just keep moving and prepare for our season.”
St George Illawarra Dragons made a public move for the former Wallaby before experiencing a backlash from sponsors and fans, and the player’s former club Brisbane Broncos have also been linked with a move.
Chan insists Folau has not spoken to any NRL club as he puts the health of his sick mother-in-law at the top of his list of priorities.
“From the conversations we’ve had with Izzy, his mind isn’t on the game for obvious reasons,” Chan said. “His priority is his family and we fully support that. He’s not spoken to anyone.”
Folau, who joined the Perpignan club ahead of the 2019 season, is contracted to the end of 2021 and Chan says they will demand a transfer fee, having been duped in the past into releasing unsettled players who went on to sign for other clubs.
“It’s sad to say but this is the business we are in,” Chan said. “We have to treat it as a business as much as we are a family club.
“We’ve been burnt often in the past. We’ve put our heart on our sleeve and it’s come back and bit us.
“We’re at a point now where we have to draw a line in the sand where we’re not going to be taken for granted.”
Chan says the Catalans have not gone as far as naming a price for the strong-running centre.
“That’s a conversation we’d have to have at board level with the president and the board,” he said.
“Business is business and we have to ensure the safety of our business by putting things in place to make sure both parties are happy.”
As they prepare to start the season with two behind-closed-doors fixtures in England, the Dragons are gearing up to play their round-three match against Salford in mid-April at home and soon hope to be back playing in front of fans as France battles to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re ready to go and really looking forward to getting our crowds back,” Chan said.
“It’s a bit mixed in France. Certain regions up north seem to be getting higher in numbers whereas down here we’re looking really good. We’re moving in a positive direction.”
The club play their first trial match against a French Federation XIII on Saturday at Stade Aime Giral, the home of Perpignan rugby union club, but will be back at Gilbert Brutus next Saturday for a friendly with Toulouse.
The club are still awaiting the arrival of New Zealand international Whare, who will have to undergo a seven-day quarantine when he eventually lands.