St George Illawarra star Jack de Belin has responded to his appointment as Dragons captain amid debate around the controversial move from within the NRL world. The 32-year-old will assume the role of captain for the first time in the NRL when the Dragons face the Dolphins on Thursday night without regular skipper Ben Hunt.
With Hunt in Queensland's State of Origin camp, Dragons interim coach Ryan Carr handed de Belin the captaincy for Thursday's game at Redcliffe, in a move that has ruffled the feathers of many supporters. The former representative forward is a polarising figure, having been stood down for two years under the NRL’s no-fault rule over rape charges stemming from 2018.
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Following two trials, De Belin was eventually found not guilty of one sexual assault charge, with the jury unable to reach a verdict on five others. Having returned to the NRL, de Belin was then caught up in the Dragons infamous BBQ controversy at former teammate Paul Vaughan’s house.
The unauthorised gathering broke NSW Covid-19 regulations and saw Vaughan’s contract ultimately ripped up. De Belin was alleged to have misled Dragons officials about his involvement at the time.
Suffice to say, his appointment as Dragons captain - albeit only on a part-time basis - has divided the NRL world. While many insist the Dragons had precious few other options, others have argued that it is a bad look for the club to be led by a player with an obviously chequered history.
I honestly could not care less what the reason is, if Jack de Belin is the person you think most displays leadership qualities at your club, the coach was the least of your problems.
— LadiesWhoLeague (@LadiesWhoLeague) May 23, 2023
A Captain should be someone who can set an example on & off the field- a leader of men. I judge Jack de Belin as a player whose club paid him through 2.5 seasons of been sidelined & within months of coming back he gets caught out at an unlawful COVID event & fined $42k. A leader?
— WAIT! WHO DID YOU SAY? (@NrlConspiracies) May 23, 2023
De Belin was suppose to be picked for NSW but Freddy was worried about the media attention like this for something he wasn’t convicted for that happened 5 years ago… he deserved to be in origin and deserves to be captain of the Dragons. Media need to move on. #NRL #Origin https://t.co/gwlbaPKOtS
— Rugby League News (@RugbyLeagueNews) May 23, 2023
De Belin understands that his past and the responsibility of being St George Illawarra's captain comes with added scrutiny. However, the talented forward says it's an honour to able to skipper the proud club in Hunt's absence.
“This means the world to me, and to be able to lead this proud club after everything I’ve been through, it’s super satisfying and a good reward,” de Belin told The Sydney Morning Herald. De Belin said jumped at the chance to captain the Dragons after being approached by caretaker coach Ryan Carr, despite anticipating the backlash the move would cause for some fans.
“People are entitled to their opinions," he added. But it’s a game of football, and I don’t see how me being captain has anything to do with my past. I’ve heard and seen the outrage online, but I’ve only had positivity and people in my corner when I actually see them [face to face].”
De Belin was considered a captaincy candidate by recently sacked coach Anthony Griffin in 2021, but the club backtracked on that move which came soon after the forward had returned to the game following the allegations of sexual assault. The Dragons are without Blake Lawrie and Jaydn Su'A against the Dolphins and have put Jayden Sullivan in Hunt's No. 7 jersey.
Origin sparks mass changes for round 13
In the first Origin-affected round of 2023, there have been significant changes across the board for those clubs involved in NRL action. Kalyn Ponga, who was dropped by the Maroons, has shifted to fullback for Newcastle's game against a Manly side without Tom Trbojevic and injured brother Jake, as well as Maroons captain, Daly Cherry-Evans.
Despite being ruled out of NSW camp with a sternum injury, South Sydney's Campbell Graham is included to face Canberra on Saturday with Blake Taaffe filling in for Latrell Mitchell at fullback. Canberra have shifted Corey Horsburgh to a backrow role and recalled Corey Harawira-Naera with Hudson Young (Origin) and Elliot Whitehead (suspension) unavailable.
Kodi Nikorima plays fullback for the Dolphins in the absence of Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, while eye-catching centre Valynce Te Whare is named to come off the bench. Brisbane travel to Napier to take on the Warriors on Saturday with Adam Reynolds back in the halves but with a heavily-changed pack due to Origin absences.
Tristan Sailor, the son of league great Wendell, will make his Broncos debut at fullback with Reece Walsh in Maroons camp. Manly have been forced into a similar change with Keao Weekes filling in for Tom Trbojevic against Newcastle.
The Knights have demoted Lachlan Miller to the bench clearing Ponga's return to fullback. Parramatta, meanwhile, have named Joe Ofahengaue for Friday's game against the North Queensland Cowboys after he completed a switch from the Wests Tigers on Tuesday. Jason Taumalolo is among the Cowboys' extended bench.
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