When Maria Tutaia married Israel Folau under Kangaroo Valley’s serene blue skies in November 2017, she knew she wasn’t in for an easy ride.
Sharing pictures of her wedding on Instagram, the New Zealand international netballer captioned them: ‘Two imperfect people who refuse to give up on one another’.
And almost two years later, true to her word, Maria is standing steadfastly by her embattled husband as he prepares for a major legal fight to save his career.
When Maria Tutaia married Israel Folau (pictured together on their wedding day) under Kangaroo Valley’s serene blue skies in November 2017, she knew she wasn’t in for an easy ride
Maria is supporting her husband through his legal battle. Left: Maria arrives at the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards at Vector Arena on November 19, 2015. Right: Maria in Air New Zealand Fashion Week in 2006
It would be easy for her to sit back and refuse to publicly endorse his highly controversial anti-gay beliefs which got him sacked from Rugby Australia last month.
Doing so may save her from some relentless trolling she has endured on her social media accounts.
Moreover, it would be prudent too, as calls grow from back home for disciplinary action against the 32-year-old which could jeopardise her place in the national team.
Instead, the devout Christian has used her social media platforms to back Folau, re-posting his fundraising appeal to her own 88,000 Instagram followers.
She has also publicly donated her own money to his legal battle.
As Folau told his donors when he set up his GoFundMe page last week: ‘My wife Maria and I have already spent over $100,000.’
The netballer is standing steadfastly by her embattled husband (pictured together) as he prepares for a major legal fight to save his career
Devout Christian Maria has used her social media platforms to back Folau (pictured together), re-posting his fundraising appeal to her own 88,000 Instagram followers.
Folau told his donors when he set up his GoFundMe page last week: ‘My wife Maria and I have already spent over $100,000.’ The couple are pictured together
However, unlike her trigger-happy husband, Maria, who was born in Auckland and played for her country aged 16, has been careful not to contravene her employer’s social media policy.
Her club, the Adelaide Thunderbirds, has said that it does not endorse her support of Folau but says she has not broken any rules.
‘While Netball SA in no way endorses the reposting, we do not believe Maria has contravened our social media policy,’ the organisation said in a statement.
The body said that Maria was a good ambassador for the sport, regularly taking part in youth and community projects to inspire and guide young players.
Such strong backing from Netball SA offended many in the game, Australian netball legend Liz Ellis chief among them.
For supporting her husband’s fight, Maria has been relentlessly trolled on social media. Above are some of the examples of awful abuse she has suffered
The superstar effectively called for Maria to sacked, writing on Twitter: ‘Anyone who is seen to support or endorse homophobia is not welcome.
‘As much as I love watching @MariaFolau play netball I do not want my sport endorsing the views of her husband.’
With the Australian Super League now over, Maria, whose glittering career includes winning the Commonwealth Games in 2010, is turning her attention to New Zealand where those who oppose her husband’s views are baying for blood.
Training for the world cup with the national team in Auckland this week, Maria is sure to face uncomfortable questions about her beliefs.
As one local sports reporter wrote for Stuff on Monday: ‘She’ll be under intense scrutiny, it will become a sideshow and there may be protests at games. How will they deal with questions about Maria?’
Indeed, how Netball New Zealand handles the situation will be intriguing – but, if Maria’s social media accounts are anything to go by, her views will not change.
Her belief, as she wrote in one Instagram post in April, that ‘I am nothing without you Jesus’ mirrors Folau’s insistence that the Lord is the most important thing in his life – and worth sacrificing everything for.
born to win: Maria Tutaia and Irene van Dyk of New Zealand pose with their gold medals at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in India
Maria Folau of the Thunderbirds passes during the round 5 Super Netball match between the Thunderbirds and the Firebirds at Priceline Stadium on May 26, 2019
It is that determination that has persuaded Maria to stand by her husband, potentially putting her career and the sponsorship deals that come with it at risk.
Meanwhile, Folau’s battle against Rugby Australia is rapidly gaining financial support.
Donations were pouring in at $1,000 per minute on Tuesday morning after the Australian Christian Lobby set up a new fundraising page for his legal bills.
The page, hosted on the lobby’s website, collected more than $400,000 just hours after the star player’s GoFundMe campaign was shut down for breaching terms.
Hundreds of supporters, angry with GoFundMe, said they had doubled or tripled their donations this time around.
Folau is seeking $10million in damages after he was sacked by Rugby Australia in May for breaching his contract by sharing a homophobic meme on Instagram.
The 30-year-old claimed he was spreading the word of God because he is a devout Christian who closely follows the Bible.
But Rugby Australia said he breached his contracted which stated he must treat all people ‘equally and fairly’.
Israel Folau’s husband’s battle against Rugby Australia is rapidly gaining financial support. Pictured: A fundraising page for his legal fees