Catalans Dragons coach Steve McNamara defended Israel Folau’s decision not to take the knee ahead of his team’s Super League match against St Helens.
While Super League chief executive Robert Elstone, referee Ben Thaler and the bulk of the players chose to back the Black Lives Matter protest, controversial dual-code international Folau remained on his feet, an action described by McNamara as “a personal choice”.
McNamara said at the post-match news conference: “As a group of players and coaching staff, we spoke about it in depth and as a club we are completely against racism and all for equal opportunity.
“But there were some players and staff who made the decision not to take the knee. That was based on personal choice, they have their own reasons for doing that, and we decided we would respect anyone’s personal choice on the matter.”
Folau was sacked by Australia Rugby Union over homophobic comments and his arrival in Super League was initially greeted with protests but he won over fans in the south of France for his displays on the field and recently signed a new contract with the Super League club.
Folau was unable to make his mark on the game as the Catalans lost 34-6 to the reigning champions in the opening game of a double-header at Headingley which marked the resumption of Super League.
Full-back Lachlan Coote scored 18 points with two tries and five goals as Saints dominated the contest after a competitive opening.
“We are clearly disappointed with the performance,” McNamara said. “For the first 10 minutes it was looking like it was going to be a great game.
“But we started to make basic mistakes and we couldn’t control the Saints back three. They got momentum and it was very hard to get it back.
“We’ve been waiting a long time to get back on the field and we haven’t got it right in the first game. We’ve a fair bit to sort before our next game.”
St Helens coach Kristian Woolf was delighted with his team’s six-try performance.
“I’m really happy,” he said. “I said all week I thought we came back good, we trained exceptionally well and we were expecting a good performance.
“They’re a good side and they certainly threw plenty at us. But our contact and our defence and the attitude showed was really good.”
Saints suffered a couple of blows on the eve of the match, losing regular forwards Matty Lees and Dom Peyroux to illness and injury respectively, but the return of England prop James Graham helped them make a tremendous start.
“You could see the excitement from Jammer to be back in Saints colours,” Woolf said. “He’s been terrific from day one.
“I don’t think you can have anybody better to help young players become better players. He’s got a real win-at-all-costs attitude and he’s a tough b*****, that’s why he’s got such a good history in the game.”
“A week ago I was talking about full strength and then in the space of a couple of days, we lose a couple and Lees wakes up with a sore throat.
“It was a little bit disruptive but I was really happy with Kyle Amor, who got a little bit more time, and young Joey (Batchelor) did a really good job and held his hands up well.”