De Belin could make Magic comeback
The Jack de Belin saga may not necessarily come to a close this week with the decision of Federal Court judge Melissa Perry.
The Australian understands the ARL Commission is likely to discuss taking the matter to the full Federal Court should de Belin emerge victorious, meaning the saga could drag on for a few more months.
Judge Perry is expected to hand down her decision on the matter this week, although it is unlikely to arrive in time for de Belin to be named today in the St George Illawarra side to play against Parramatta this weekend.
However, should de Belin be successful in overturning the no-fault stand-down policy he would be free to play the following weekend when the Dragons play the New Zealand Warriors at Suncorp Stadium as part of Magic Weekend.
That shapes as a public relations disaster for the NRL given it will be the inaugural Magic Weekend. It could yet be overshadowed by the return of de Belin, the Dragons forward having previously been stood down by the ARL Commission under their freshly-minted policy for players charged with serious criminal offences.
De Belin has been charged with aggravated sexual assault stemming from an incident in Wollongong late last year. Even if the ARL Commission decides to press ahead with an appeal to the Full Federal Court, it is highly unlikely they would be able to gain an injunction to prevent de Belin returning to the field.
Regardless, it would signal the continuation of a matter that has shadowed the code through the opening seven rounds of the season. De Belin continues to train with the Dragons and coach Paul McGregor has made it clear he will pick the NSW forward if and when he is cleared by the courts.
The ARL Commission and NRL have much at stake, fresh court documents lodged on Monday illustrating the pubic backlash caused by the charges against de Belin.
The commission's legal team provided copies of hundreds of emails from fans taking the game to task over their handling of off-field controversies.
One supporter writes that they moved to Wollongong four years ago and became a member of the Dragons.
However, they say they chose not to renew their membership in the wake of the allegations against de Belin. They also say they cancelled their Foxtel subscription in response to the treatment of women by NRL players.
Another says the NRL should hang their head in shame for allowing de Belin to continue playing. One man wrote that he was a father of two boys that he had hoped would one day play in the NRL.
In light of the NRL's so-called 'Summer of Hell', he said he could no longer justify dedicating any part of his life to the sport. And so it went on. There was also criticism of the NRL over their handling of many of the off-field matters that blighted the code over the off-season.
Also among the documents is an email from NIB chief executive Mark Fitzgibbon addressed to NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg and supporting the decision to introduce the no-fault stand-down policy.
NIB are one of the game's key sponsors.
"I'm sure you're getting plenty of 'free advice' on the de Belin incident," Fitzgibbon wrote.
"Yes, we of course deserve the presumption of innocence - 100 per cent. But neither of us would be at our desk today business as usual if it was us subject to such serious charges. We'd be in the sin bin on full pay awaiting the outcome."