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'It's been hard for her… but she's a strong woman': Israel Folau heaps praise on embattled wife Maria as he finally breaks his silence on sacking saga - but admits his religion will always come before her

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 27/06/2019 Zoe Zaczek

Israel Folau wearing a suit and tie © Sky News Israel Folau Embattled ex-rugby star Israel Folau has heaped praise on his wife Maria in his first  TV interview since his $4million contract was torn up by Rugby Australia.

Folau was joined by conservative commentators Alan Jones and Peta Credlin on Thursday evening to discuss freedom of speech in Australia - and his bombshell sacking over his latest homophobic post.   

Folau stood by his faith, despite admitting the ordeal had been 'tough' on his family.  

'It's been a very tough time for myself, Maria and our families… but we are holding up really strong from the support,' he said on Sky News.

'It's [faith] the most important thing to me. My identity is found in what's written in that book.

'The Bible and what I believe comes out of that is very important to me.' 

Maria Tutaia, Israel Folau are posing for a picture: Folau (right) heaped praise on his wife Maria (left) during the interview, calling her a 'strong woman' © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Folau (right) heaped praise on his wife Maria (left) during the interview, calling her a 'strong woman'

Folau commended his wife Maria who had stayed 'strong' throughout the ordeal.

'Look it's been extremely hard for her, she's been dragged into this situation unexpectedly,' he said. 

'It's been very frustrating for her but I'm very lucky she's a strong woman, she's [the] same as me, convicted by her faith. 

'She's continued to march on and stay strong.'

Mr Jones asked what would keep Folau going amid the legal battle and he conceded faith was his top priority.  

'[I'm] driven by my faith - being number one - and my wife... My family and my friends,' he said. 

Speaking on the specific verse that landed Folau in hot water, he said 'it's nothing personal' - but part of his duty as a Christian to share the Bible. 

Israel Folau wearing a suit and tie: Folau stood by his faith, despite admitting the ordeal had been 'tough' on his family © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Folau stood by his faith, despite admitting the ordeal had been 'tough' on his family 'I'm trying to share in love and that's the way I look at it in terms of sharing the Bible,' he said.

Folau said RA asked him to remove the post and would pay him money to take it down, but Folau said he 'couldn't live with that, removing the post'. 

'I felt like I was backed into a corner… that I had to compromise to what they were asking,' he said. 

Folau will meet with the Fair Work Commission on Friday and is hopeful RA will apologise to him.

Israel Folau wearing a suit and tie: Embattled ex-rugby star Israel Folau appeared in first interview since he was sacked by Rugby Australia © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Embattled ex-rugby star Israel Folau appeared in first interview since he was sacked by Rugby Australia

'I'm not an expert in law but I've got a great legal team behind me and they're doing a great job,' he said.

'I'm hopeful for an apology from them and an admission they were wrong.

'I'm extremely proud to have represented my country. It's truly an honour.'  

Folau said he had a great relationship with his former Wallabies teammates and a lot of them share the same beliefs and faith.

Despite this, Folau said he couldn't confirm if teammates were frightened to support him in the public eye.  

Israel Folau in a white dress: Folau is pictured with his wife Maria, who plays netball for the Adelaide Thunderbirds © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Folau is pictured with his wife Maria, who plays netball for the Adelaide Thunderbirds

The former Waratah said his family are 'extremely grateful' for the support they had received from the Australian public. 

Folau added he wasn't surprised by the 'backlash' as it's 'God's word you will encounter these things'. 

Mr Jones described Folau as a 'gentle' soul and described the saga as a battle for all Australians. 

'It's a battle for all of us, this isn't for money, this is principle,' he said. 

' Israel Folau posing for the camera: Folau is claiming unfair dismissal against RA and launched a GoFundMe page last week to pay for legal fees ahead of the battle © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Folau is claiming unfair dismissal against RA and launched a GoFundMe page last week to pay for legal fees ahead of the battle We are in dangerous territory and thousands and thousands of Australians understand that and they could be next in their workplace.

'Rugby Australia is using money it doesn't have … to humiliate, alienate and destroy their best player.' 

Folau is claiming unfair dismissal against RA and launched a GoFundMe page last week to pay for legal fees ahead of the battle. 

Maria Tutaia, Israel Folau posing for the camera: Folau's GoFundMe page raised $750,000 before it was taken down, with many claiming their anger about its removal simply encouraged them to donate more to the second campaign © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Folau's GoFundMe page raised $750,000 before it was taken down, with many claiming their anger about its removal simply encouraged them to donate more to the second campaign His controversial post read: 'Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters' would go to hell unless they repented'. 

GoFundMe pulled down the page on Monday - where Folau had raise more than $750,000 - and announced they did not tolerate 'the promotion of discrimination or exclusion'.

The Australian Christian Lobby responded by setting up their own campaign for Folau and 'religious freedom', where they donated $100,000.

The lobby made $2million in less than 48 hours - two thirds of Folau's initial $3million target.  

a close up of Israel Folau wearing a hat: '[I'm] driven by my faith - being number one - and my wife... My family and my friends,' Folau said © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited '[I'm] driven by my faith - being number one - and my wife... My family and my friends,' Folau said

'Your overwhelming support means that Israel Folau has raised enough money for now,' ACL said.

'ACL, Izzy, and everyone involved is humbled and grateful. We are hitting the pause button.'

'But if the case drags on and Israel needs more support, we will reopen this campaign.'

Radio host Jones said Folau's battle was 'one of the defining cases of our time' during his 2GB show on Thursday morning.   

'These are essential freedoms...it's a bit like the Mabo case, these are significant changes that must be made to the way we run our society if we are free and democratic,' Mr Jones said.

Israel Folau holding a football ball: In an Instagram post on Wednesday, Folau said he was 'humbled' by the support following the termination of his RA contract © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited In an Instagram post on Wednesday, Folau said he was 'humbled' by the support following the termination of his RA contract

'We should all be doing our little bit because Israel Folau is fighting the battle for all of us.' 

In an Instagram post on Wednesday, Folau said he was 'humbled' by the support following the termination of his RA contract.

'To those who have criticised me, I bear no ill will towards you. You have every right to express your own beliefs and opinions,' he said.

'GoFundMe's decision to shut down my campaign proves the importance of my case; whether you share my faith or believe in my right to express it, attempts to sanction what we believe is a threat to all Australians.

Israel Folau wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: ACL managing director Martyn Iles (left) with Folau. The ACL launched their own fundraiser after GoFundMe pulled the plug. They raised more than $2million © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited ACL managing director Martyn Iles (left) with Folau. The ACL launched their own fundraiser after GoFundMe pulled the plug. They raised more than $2million

'I am incredibly thankful for the Australian Christian Lobby, which has not only come to my defence in the media, but generously established a website to receive donations on my behalf.

'For those not in a position to donate, your support and prayers will make more of a difference than anything else.'

Folau's GoFundMe page raised $750,000 before it was taken down, with many claiming their anger about its removal simply encouraged them to donate more to the second campaign.

ACL managing director Martyn Iles told Sunrise there were 10 donors per minute and the average amount spent was just below $100.

In pictures: The highs and lows of Israel Folau's career

'The quiet Australians are speaking with their wallets,' he said.

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