Banned rugby league player Jack de Belin's rape trial may now be delayed until November, dashing the St George Illawarra Dragons forward's prospects of playing in the 2020 NRL season.
De Belin and his co-accused, Shellharbour Sharks player Callan Sinclair, were due to begin a two-week trial on February 3 after pleading not guilty to sexual assault charges stemming from the alleged rape of a 19-year-old woman in a Wollongong apartment in December 2018.
However, series of complex but unexpected pre-trial legal arguments forced the court to delay the start of the trial.
It was hoped the legal argument would be resolved by the end of this week, but the sudden illness of a significant witness in the pre-trial proceedings caused further setbacks on Wednesday.
It was hoped the witness, whose name has been suppressed by the court, would be available on Thursday, however Judge Andrew Haesler said he'd received medical certificates confirming the person was ill and unavailable to give evidence.
Judge Haesler said he had no alternative but to further delay the case as the pre-trial legal issues had to be resolved before any trial could begin.
He adjourned the case to April 8 for the continuation of the legal debate.
After consultation with all parties involved, Judge Haesler tentatively booked the trial in for three weeks in November.
It is understood the trial may proceed earlier if court dates become available in Sydney.
Meanwhile, the ongoing delay has cast further doubt over de Belin's playing career with the Dragons.
He did not take the field last season after he became the first player stood down under the NRL's controversial "no-fault stand-down" policy.
De Belin unsuccessfully challenged the policy in the NSW Federal Court but abandoned an appeal after his trial date was brought forward to February this year.
A November trial date means de Belin would miss the entire 2020 season.
The Rugby League Players' Association issued a statement on Thursday reiterating their opposition to the "no-fault stand down" policy, saying the delays in de Belin's case demonstrated the "inherent unfairness" of such a stance.
De Belin and Sinclair remain on police bail.