File: Wallabies' fullback Israel Folau.
SYDNEY - Wallabies fullback Israel Folau on Wednesday formally challenged Rugby Australia's decision to sack him over anti-gay social media posts, thrusting the sport into further turmoil ahead of the World Cup.
The latest showdown with the devoutly religious 30-year-old -- who last year was embroiled in a similar row -- came after he posted on his Instagram account that "Hell awaits" homosexuals.
Rugby Australia responded last week by announcing its intention to terminate Folau's multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract to play for the Wallabies and Super Rugby's NSW Waratahs.
After a fruitless meeting with the player on Friday, the governing body declared Folau in breach of the sport's code of conduct and said he would be sacked unless he referred the case to a formal hearing, which he did on Wednesday.
The hearing, before representatives of Rugby Australia, the professional players association and an independent figure, is likely to be delayed by a series of public holidays over the next two weeks, extending the headache for the sport's leaders in Australia.
Folau, Super Rugby's all-time top try scorer, had been expected to play a crucial role for the Wallabies at the World Cup beginning in September in Japan, after Rugby Australia signed him to a Aus$4-million (US$2,9-million) four-year contract in February.
- NRL turns its back -
Folau -- who has played at an elite level in three different football codes -- had said in February that playing in the tournament was a key reason why he had re-signed with the Wallabies and Waratahs.
On Sunday he struck a different tone when he told the Sydney Morning Herald that he was ready for life without rugby, saying, "I live for God now".
"Whatever His will is, whether that's to continue playing or not, I'm more than happy to do what He wants me to do," Folau said.
Rugby league, the sport in which Folau started his career, is also turning its back on him. Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Beattie said last week he had failed the sport's character test and would not get a contract.
National Rugby League stars Benji Marshall and James Graham echoed similar views, telling Fox Sports they could not see a way for the controversial player to return to their sport.
"I really can't see him being allowed to play rugby league for what he said," Graham said. "Reading what he said after it, there's no apology, I just can't see a way back for him and I think that's quite sad to be honest with you."