De Belin’s lawyer argues NRL ban is ‘harsh and draconian’
NRL star Jack de Belin is fighting to overturn a harsh, unfair and draconian playing ban that could make him virtually unemployable, his lawyer says.
St George Illawarra is ready to play the 28-year-old as soon as Saturday if he wins a Federal Court challenge against his suspension this week.
De Belin was greeted in court by NRL boss Todd Greenberg on Monday as the three-day hearing to determine the legality of the NRL's 'no-fault stand-down policy' got underway.
De Belin's lawyer said the policy introduced in March is automatic, retrospective and unprecedented in any Australian sporting code.
"It's a harsh rule, its an unfair rule, it's a draconian rule," barrister Martin Einfeld QC said in his opening address.
"This rule is in effect indefinite."
Mr Einfeld said another absurdity is that any suspended player has no right to appeal the decision which is a "remarkable and extreme provision."
The lock's immediate playing future is not the only career at stake with Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Beattie's own leadership on the line pending the landmark case.
The NSW State of Origin player hasn't run out for the Dragons since being charged with aggravated sexual assault in December.
De Belin, who last week welcomed the birth of his daughter with partner Alyce Taylor, vehemently denies the allegations.
The representative forward allegedly raped a 19-year-old woman inside a Wollongong apartment in the early hours of December 9 last year, while his friend and co-accused, Callan Sinclair, watched on.
De Belin was suspended for the duration of that criminal matter, which is due back in Wollongong Local Court on Wednesday for mention but may take up to two years to conclude, Mr Einfeld said.
De Belin's manager Steve Gillis was present in court and is expected to testify that the ban, which is likely to extend past his October 2020 contract, will render him "virtually unemployable" due to form loss and reduced field time.
Greenberg, NRL chief commercial officer Andrew Abdo and Melbourne Storm chairman Bart Campbell have provided affidavits outlining the damage done to the game in the aftermath of de Belin's rape charges.
All three are expected to give evidence this week while former Kangaroos centre Mark Gasnier was also present in court.
The court heard Greenberg provided 500 emails from fans clamouring for the code to take a tougher stance against players facing serious criminal charges and endorsing the NRL's decision.
But Mr Einfield says they "do no such thing" with some members of the public slamming the league's actions, asking "what happened to the presumption of innocence?" and stating de Belin was entitled to a hearing first.
The barrister added that much of the reactions from sponsors were not just about de Belin's charges or the NRL's "so-called summer from hell" but addressed scandals dating back years.
And any desire to "bow" to sponsors doesn't justify such "ridiculous, indeed mischievous and unconscionable" conduct, Mr Einfield added.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor said if de Belin wins he would "absolutely" rejoin the club's active roster for their round six clash against the Manly Sea Eagles on Saturday night.
Beattie could be forced to step away from the top job with the blowtorch to be put on the former Queensland Premier and the rest of the Commission should the rule be overturned.
Beattie has staked his reputation on the contentious policy having championed cultural change after a spate of off-field scandals during the pre-season.
De Belin's ruling will have huge ramifications for the game with Manly's Dylan Walker and Penrith's Tyrone May also being stood down for off field incidents of their own.
It's the first significant test of the league's powers by a player since Terry Hill took on the draft system in 1991 and could leave the game's new behaviour policy in tatters as de Belin is also seeking to permanently restrain it from being introduced into either the NRL rules or Code of Conduct.
De Belin has accused the NRL and the ARLC of misleading and deceptive conduct, claiming neither had the power to bench him on February 28.
Last month Mr Greenberg announced de Belin as the first casualty of the new discretionary powers and on the ABC730 program Mr Beattie doubled down by stating "three players have been stood down".
"That statement was false, it unquestionable misled the media," Mr Einfield said.
The hearing before Justice Melissa Perry continues.