Catalans Dragons are considering taking legal action against Israel Folau after discovering his latest attempt to make a playing comeback in Australia.
The 32-year-old dual-code international was given compassionate leave by the France-based Super League club at the start of the year after a close family member fell seriously ill but he remains contracted to them for the 2021 season.
Catalans football manager Alex Chan says he was "shocked" by news of Folau's bid to sign for Southport Tigers in the Queensland League.
Folau appeared at a press conference in Brisbane on Friday alongside mining magnate Clive Palmer, his sponsor who has threatened legal action of his own if the player is prevented from resuming his career alongside his two brothers at the Southport club.
The Catalans prepared for their current season without Folau, but Chan says they always hoped he would return at some stage during the year.
"Our stance hasn't changed," Chan told PA. "We've given Israel and his family time to get back together and make sure that everything is going good and we expected that, once Izzy found some stability, we've left the door open.
"We still hold his contract, he's still a registered player with Catalans Dragons. It was a big shock to see what was put out there.
"We can't just let things happen like this. I've got to meet with the club president and our directors but I've already made our legal team aware of the situation that is starting to unfold.
"We need to start being pro-active from our end in case things start to escalate and go nasty."
Folau was courted by NRL club St George Illawarra earlier this year but they pulled out of negotiations after a backlash over their attempts to sign a player who was sacked by Rugby Australia in 2019 for posting homophobic comments on social media.
Chan, who says his club lost sponsorship after taking a gamble over his signing ahead of the 2020 season, insists they will demand recompense from any club wanting to take over his registration.
"His signing had a massive impact on us as a club," he said.
"We encountered a lot of criticism and a lot of abuse and we lost sponsorship. We took a financial hit because certain people within the game parted with us.
"On the other side, he brought a lot of positivity back to our club with the way he played and the way he conducts himself as a professional. And we got some good results on the back of his on-field performances.
"We based our 2021 squad around certain players within our group last year. Izzy was a big influence on certain ways we went with player recruitment and player retention.
"We're still ambitious to get Izzy to return to France and pick up the season with us."
The legal talk cut no ice with Palmer.
"The truth about it, and we've had a look at that, obviously before we signed Israel up, is he signed a contract with them in January," said Palmer.
"It required them to make substantial payments to Israel, which they've failed and defaulted in doing. So in a legal sense they've repudiated that contract.
"Israel's accepted that repudiation and the contract's terminated. That's the legal position, so they don't have a leg to stand on."