De Belin's challenge of NRL rule begins

Steve Zemek
Jack de Belin has taken the NRL to court as he attempts to return to the game

St George Illawarra star Jack de Belin fears his NRL career will be irreparably damaged unless the NRL's "draconian" no-fault stand down rules are overturned.

De Belin is suing the ARL Commission and NRL in the Federal Court after he was indefinitely stood down after he was charged with aggravated sexual assault.

He has pleaded not guilty to a charge involving a 19-year-old woman in a Wollongong unit.

The case will be mentioned in Wollongong Local Court on Wednesday.

The NSW State of Origin star's barrister Martin Einfeld QC told Justice Melissa Perry on Monday the NRL's stand down rule was: "A harsh rule, an unfair rule, a draconian rule.

"It's unprecedented in any sporting code in Australia."

Einfeld told the court that there were grave fears for De Belin's playing future because there was no guarantee that his criminal case would be finalised before the end of 2020 season, when his Dragons contract expires.

De Belin's manager Steve Gillis testified his client would have trouble resuming his career if he was to remain on the sidelines for the remainder of his deal.

"I would expect he would be severely financially hit if he's not allowed to ply his trade in the next 18 months to two seasons," Gillis said.

"The player needs to showcase what he can do, he needs to be in the shop front window."

Under the no-fault policy, any player charged with a serious crime which carries a jail term of 11 years or more can be automatically stood down.

The NRL's barrister Alan Sullivan QC said that the game's reputation had taken a battering in the wake of the off-season.

He said the game used the Net Promoter Score (NPS) to justify their hardline stance.

The NPS is an index which measures how likely someone is to recommend rugby league to friends and family.

The court heard that in December, the month in which de Belin was charged, the NRL's NPS score had dropped six points to negative seven, and its score amongst females had nosedived 15 points to negative 12.

In the affidavit of NRL chief commercial officer Andrew Abdo, he said that since the game began tracking its NPS score in 2017, there had been a correlation between it and crowd attendance and broadcast viewership.

De Belin was one of three players stood down, along with Manly's Dylan Walker and Penrith's Tyrone May.

The case is expected to have wide-ranging ramifications for the NRL and ARL Commission chairman Peter Beattie, who has previously acknowledged he has staked his job to the issue.

NRL cheif executive Todd Greenberg is expected to give evidence on Tuesday morning.

Former St George Illawarra star Mark Gasnier was present in court to support de Belin on Monday morning.