Hopoate empathises with Folau over his firm religious stance
Canterbury centre Will Hopoate, who has been criticised for missing matches because of his religious beliefs, says former NRL star Israel Folau is entitled to his controversial opinions.
Folau has come under fire in recent weeks for comments made indicating gay people were destined for hell unless they "repented for their sins".
Hopoate admitted he has watched on with an interest as more people weighed into the debate.
"It's all over social media and the news," Hopoate said on Tuesday.
"I don't want to delve into it too much [but] I think it's been blown out of proportion. It's his opinion and he's sharing what he believes in. I've said it before, it's a choice to be offended."
Hopoate walked away from the Telstra Premiership in 2012 to serve a two-year Mormon mission.
He returned to the competition, joining Parramatta in 2014 before moving to the Bulldogs under former coach Des Hasler.
As part of the agreement to join the club, Hopoate was given permission to miss Sunday clashes due to his beliefs – a stance the club later requested to be changed as part of a new three-year contract extension signed in May last year.
Hopoate hesitantly agreed to the request, labelling it "not ideal" at the time, but came under scrutiny with mixed responses from Bulldogs fans for the original agreement.
Hopoate believes Folau had every right to express his opinion declaring everyone is entitled to one, but fell short in offering his own thoughts on the human rights topic.
"I think so, yeah," Hopoate said.
"It's turned into not the best situation for himself and hopefully everyone gets over it soon. We live in a wonderful country where freedom of speech is a part of that. He's simply sharing his beliefs. I know it came across as offensive to some people and not so for others."
The comments come a week after NRL CEO Todd Greenberg made it clear the code would welcome Folau back with his contract up for renewal in rugby union.
Greenberg indicated though, if Folau did make a return, he would be having a quiet word to the former Maroons and Kangaroos star.
"I'd have that conversation with him but I'd have that between Israel and I," Greenberg said.
"[But] yes, we would [welcome him back]. But ultimately that's a decision for Israel. If he wants to play rugby league there's a place in rugby league for him.
"It's not a concern, everyone has their own views. It doesn't mean people agree with them. It happens every day in this great game. People have their views.
"Being inclusive starts with everyone having an opportunity to speak."