An unexpected ending to Jack de Belin’s sexual assault trial has left the rugby league star facing at least three years out of the game.
The NRL has ruled out scrapping or making any changes to its hard line “no-fault” stand down policy after the jury in Jack de Belin’s sexual assault trial failed to reach a verdict.
This is despite the St George Illawarra forward facing potentially months of uncertainty over his future as he and Callan Sinclair prepare for a possible retrial.
Mr de Belin, 29, and Mr Sinclair, 23, were accused of raping a then 19-year-old woman after drinking and partying with her during a night out in Wollongong.
After deliberating for just under two days, the jury of seven men and five woman were discharged on Monday afternoon, unable to return a verdict for either man.
The court heard a second trial may not be able to be held at the Wollongong District Court until August next year.
By that time, the former NSW lock — who has not taken the field since the 2018 finals — may have missed three full seasons of his career.
But NRL CEO Andrew Abdo strictly ruled out relaxing the rules, arguing it was introduced to protect the fabric of the game.
“It will continue in operation as it’s intended and there’ll be no change to the policy,” Mr Abdo told NCA Newswire.
Mr Abdo said the game would not budge, even with Mr de Belin potentially facing a lengthy wait for a retrial.
The path in front of him will become clearer when the matter is mentioned in the Wollongong District Court on Wednesday.
Judge Andrew Haesler, who presided over Mr de Belin and Mr Sinclair’s trial, told the court it was unacceptable for them to be forced to wait another nine months for a second trial and said it could possibly be moved to Sydney.
“(De Belin’s management) have been trying to lobby us for as long as the rule has been in place,” Mr Abdo said.
“This is a policy decision, set by the (Australian Rugby League) Commission. And they have no intent on changing it.
“It is a really important rule for us. And it was a rule brought in to protect the game.”
Under the terms of the rule, any player charged with an offence which carries a maximum jail term of 11 years or more is automatically sidelined.
De Belin has been allowed to continue to train with his Dragons teammates and receive his full $595,000-a-year salary.
He became the first player stood down under the rule, which was ushered in due a raft of damaging headlines over the 2018-19 summer.
The NRL argued that they needed to protect the game and its financial interest amid the possibility of an exodus of sponsors and financial backers.
The ARL Commission won a Federal Court challenge by De Belin over the rule in May last year.
De Belin is currently without a contract after his deal with the Dragons expired at the end of the 2020 season.
The club announced in September that they had reached an in-principle agreement for a contract extension pending the outcome of his trial.
But it remains to be seen if the Dragons will sign off on the contract given he may not be able to play until August, by which time the 2021 season will be all but finished.
The club said in a statement on Monday night that they would not comment on his contract status.
And Abdo said the NRL would not stand in the club’s way if they wished to sign off on his new deal.
“It’s a matter for the Dragons,” Abdo said.
“They can issue him a contract and they can continue to pay him and we won’t prevent it.
“But obviously he won‘t be permitted to play.”