Should he be allowed to play?
St George Illawarra have confirmed Jack de Belin will pull on the Red V in the upcoming NRL season, while he and friend Callan Sinclair face rape allegations.
In a statement on Tuesday morning, after de Belin entered a not guilty plea in Wollongong court, the club confirmed he would continue his “training and playing commitments”, after changes to his bail conditions were approved.
“St George Illawarra player Jack de Belin appeared in Wollongong Local Court on Tuesday in relation to the allegations made against him in December,” the statement read.
“De Belin entered a plea of not guilty and court proceedings were adjourned until April. Lawyers made application to vary his bail conditions to enable de Belin to fulfil his training and playing commitments, which was approved.
“The club will make no further comment as this matter remains before the courts.”
The terms of de Belin’s bail meant he had to report to police twice a week, but his legal team successfully argued it should be changed, so he could travel with the Dragons this season.
A magistrate agreed to remove de Belin’s reporting conditions saying he was “too well known” to be considered a flight risk.
“(It's an) essential variation because he wouldn’t be able to continue playing football with the team, pursuant to his contract, if we didn’t get it,” barrister David Campbell SC said. Campbell also confirmed the Dragons are continuing to support de Belin during the case.
“Of course they are and he's standing by the Dragons and hopefully the Dragons will win the premiership,” he said.
In an exclusive interview with the Mercury last month, Dragons coach Paul McGregor said he would support de Belin.
“Obviously there’s an allegation that’s been made, there’s a denial, and there’s a court process to play out,” he said. “I’m not going to comment any further other than to say that while ever Jack’s in my care we’ll have support in place around his welfare.”
The NRL has a lengthy list and a mixed record of handling serious legal cases and whether players can pull on a boot in the meantime.
Wests Wollongong junior Brett Stewart was stood down as face of the game and suspended in 2009, but then later cleared of sexual assault allegations, finishing his career as a two-time Manly premiership and State of Origin player.
Jarryd Hayne was in negotiations to move to the Dragons this year, but that all ended and former Parramatta, Origin and NFL players left without a club as he faces an aggravated sexual assault charge.
How the de Belin case, who has been one of the most popular players among Dragons fans and made his Origin debut last year as NSW won the series, will impact on St George Illawarra’s 2019 campaign, remains to be seen.
The matter has been adjourned until April 17, which comes three days after their round five clash with the Bulldogs and three days before the Dragons meet the Sea Eagles in their first game at WIN Stadium this year.
The case will likely continue for several months.
The Dragons’ first trial is on Saturday week against Kogarah, then the Charity Shield on March 2 against South Sydney at Mudgee, before the NRL season starts against the Cowboys in Townsville on March 16.