De Belin returns but NRL "premature"

·3-min read

Anthony Griffin claims the potential of Jack de Belin being thrown straight back into St George Illawarra's NRL side is "a bit premature" after making a solid reserve grade return.

De Belin played his first game in more than two-and-a-half years on Saturday, getting through 45 minutes unscathed in the Dragons' NSW Cup side.

The former NSW State of Origin lock touched the ball three times in his first set on the field, and regularly poked his nose through the Western Suburbs' line at Lidcombe Oval.

After the NSW Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions opted against a third sexual assault trial and formally withdrew charges this week, the Dragons have taken a wait-and-see approach on de Belin's return plan.

Thursday night against Brisbane must however shape as a tantalising option to play De Belin, the highest-profile case in the NRL's no-fault stand-down policy.

It is a home game at Kogarah and the focus of many will be on Origin camps rather than club football.

The Dragons also desperately need a win after dropping six of their past seven matches, with lock Josh McGuire still suspended and de Belin the robust ball-playing option that suits the position in the quicker game.

But they must also weigh up the fact De Belin will only resume training with the team on Monday for the first time since last year, and had 968 days between games before Saturday.

"We just wanted to see today and see how he's pulled up and go from there," Griffin said.

"Everyone wants to know when he's going to play; is it going to be next Thursday?

"That might be a bit premature I think. We'll just make sure he's not coming back too early, but today didn't do him any harm.

"It was good."

De Belin looked a step above as the bottom-of-the-ladder Dragons surrendered a 16-0 lead to go down 32-18 to the Magpies.

A group of around 30 fans cheered him onto the field as the last to run out of the tunnel.

He stood up for the majority of 23 minutes he waited on the bench to get on, flagged by two security guards but with little-to-no-abuse thrown his way by the crowd of around 1000.

De Belin's parents, partner and children were both in attendance, as well as Dragons teammates and co-accused Callan Sinclair.

But what the group of around 10 Dragons staff in attendance would have been most concerned about was de Belin on the field.

The Cootamundra junior is still contracted until the end of 2023 on a $700,000-a-year deal, with the option of a further season in his favour.

He looked gassed early after his first few touches, but was still sound in defence and almost put teammate Jackson Shereb over with a short ball just before halftime.

"Once he found his legs he moved around the field really good and looked like a first grader playing second grade which is always a good sign," Griffin said.

"That's what I expected to see. Getting to know him he is such a driven character.

"I was watching him, he was totally gassed for a little while, he couldn't get into a kick chase. But two and a half year, it was a pretty good hit out I thought."