Judge: NRL gets it wrong with de Belin "ban"
NRL player Jack de Belin is not technically banned from playing the 2019 season as a controversial rule has not yet been enacted, but the governing body declaring so anyway has damaged his career, a judge says.
The St George Illawarra lock is suing the code after NRL boss Todd Greenberg announced one week ago de Belin had been stood down while fighting an aggravated sexual assault charge.
But lawyers for the NRL on Thursday admitted that despite widespread publicity to the contrary, the 27-year-old won't officially be benched until next Thursday when the competition kicks off.
"There's no entitlement at the moment to stand him down,"Justice Steven Rares said.
"It's damaging to him as professional and as an individual."
De Belin is challenging the hard-line 'no fault' stand down policy which has also been handed to Manly Sea Eagles star Dylan Walker and young Penrith playmaker Tyrone May.
He's accused the NRL and the Australian Rugby League Commission of misleading and deceptive conduct, claiming neither had the power to bench him on February 28.
Last week Greenberg and ARLC chairman Peter Beattie announced de Belin as the first casualty of the new discretionary powers and on Wednesday night's ABC 7.30 program Mr Beattie doubled down by stating "three players have been stood down".
Justice Rares noted that Beattie, a former politician and Queensland premier, should be used to choosing his language carefully.
"It's not as though Mr Beattie is not an experienced man with words," he said.
"It is suggesting that this player has been stood down and he hasn't… that would be pretty damaging for anybody."
The Dragon's season opener is next Saturday and de Belin will find out whether he'll be able to play at a hearing next Thursday which will determine whether an injunction on the ban can go ahead.
Asked to clarify, the NRL's barrister Alan Sullivan QC agreed the disciplinary policy will not come into force until Thursday.
"He hasn't been suspended your honour," Mr Sullivan said.
"There is nothing to stop Mr de Belin from playing rugby league from now until (then)."
The backrower is seeking damages and wants the NRL and ARLC to issue a press release and advertise in several newspapers that the Dragons No. 13 has not been suspended and is free to play.
De Belin's barrister Martin Einfeld QC insisted a correction should also be placed on the NRL's website "so there's no doubt".
The Origin forward has pleaded not guilty to the aggravated sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman in Wollongong during a night out last December, when he allegedly urged a mate to come "have a go" too as the young woman lay crying on the bed at de Belin's cousin's Gipps Street apartment.
Police allege Shellharbour Sharks player Callan Sinclair then allegedly forced himself on the woman until he couldn't "get hard anymore" following a night out at Fever Nightclub.
Sinclair has also denied the allegations and the pair are due back in court next month.
De Belin argues public comments from the NRL and the sport's governing body suggested they had formed a view he was guilty, warranting his "immediate suspension" from the club.
His lawyers say unsubstantiated claims he had brought the game into disrepute made national headlines, causing "irreparable damage" to his reputation and financial loss.
It's a move which could leave the game's new behaviour policy in tatters as de Belin is also seeking to permanently restrain it from being introduced into either the NRL rules or Code of Conduct.
Only last Thursday the NRL unveiled its new hard-line stance to clean up the code with the immediate suspension of any player charged with an offence carrying a maximum prison term of 11 years or more.
The day before, Greenberg summoned de Belin to a meeting demanding he "voluntarily stand down" or he would be benched, adding "the NRL competition is more important" than him, according to his statement of claim.
De Belin claims his career days are already numbered given his age and he'll suffer form loss from reduced field time if the "unreasonable" ban, which is likely to extend past his October 2020 contract, continues.
Court documents also show de Belin stands to lose sponsorship deals and Blues selection chances from the ARLC and NRL's "unconscionable conduct", which amounts to an unlawful restraint of trade.
As part of the decision, suspended players facing charges for alleged violence against women or children are still paid a salary and receive access to the club, including the opportunity to train.
But that policy is now under threat as should de Belin win the case, it would also mean Walker, who is fighting a charge of assaulting his fiance, and May, accused of filming and disseminating sex tapes without consent, would also be cleared to play.
St George Illawarra is also listed as an 'applicant' but a club spokesman said on Wednesday night the Dragons were no longer attached to the court action and that de Belin was pursuing the matter alone.
When asked if they supported the backrower's push, the club refused to comment.