The debate is raging on how the NRL should act on Jack de Belin.
The debate is raging on how the NRL should act on Jack de Belin.

Inside adviser urges NRL to bench de Belin

THE NRL's leading women's adviser says Dragons superstar Jack de Belin should be benched until a rape charge against him is ­finalised in court.

Professor Catharine Lumby's call came as NRL ­officials, including boss Todd Greenberg, and club chief ­executives prepared to meet in Melbourne tonight to thrash out a plan to fine players up to $250,000 for misbehaviour.

De Belin, 27, was back training with St George Illawarra in Wollongong on Thursday as the outrage intensified after an ugly off-season involving a string of alleged violent acts by NRL players against women.

"If he does not stand himself aside, I believe the NRL and the club need to make that happen," Prof Lumby said.

"Potentially on full pay, but he should not be on the field."

Jack de Belin returns to Dragons training at WIN Stadium.
Jack de Belin returns to Dragons training at WIN Stadium.

Prof Lumby's stance is supported by an overwhelming majority of fans who have voted in The Daily Telegraph sports editor-at-large Phil Rothfield's social media poll asking whether de Belin should be allowed to continue to take the field.

De Belin has pleaded not guilty to a charge of aggravated sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman in a Wollongong apartment in December. The matter has been adjourned until April 17, but it could take 18 months before a verdict is delivered.

So far the NRL has publicly supported the Dragons' decision to let their Origin forward play on, and that position was backed yesterday by league legends Mark Coyne and Graeme Hughes.

But while Prof Lumby said it would be reasonable to continue paying de Belin, he should not be allowed to play.

Professor Lumby says the charge is too serious to let de Belin play.
Professor Lumby says the charge is too serious to let de Belin play.

"While innocent until proven guilty is an important principle, overridingly, there is also the question of the message that allowing someone who has been charged with a very serious sexual assault on to the field sends," she told The Daily Telegraph.

"I think in the balance, not just to the game but for society, that should not happen.

"He should not be on the field. It is very important that we do not prejudge the outcome of this trial.

"However, when you are in a position of being a role model, and let's imagine that a teacher at a high school was charged with sexual assault, or let's imagine a priest was, would we want them standing up before high school students or their congregation?"

Judge Paul Conlon argues any decision to suspend de Belin could affect the court case.
Judge Paul Conlon argues any decision to suspend de Belin could affect the court case.

Prof Lumby's message comes in direct opposition to a warning from former District Court judge Paul Conlon, who told the Telegraph de Belin's legal rights to a ­presumption of innocence would be dramatically influenced if the NRL took action before the case was settled.

Mr Conlon, a former NRL judiciary chairman, noted that already in the player code of conduct there was a provision that when a player was charged with a criminal offence, the NRL would not seek to impose any sanction until the court process had been completed.

"It would be a rather extraordinary proposition for the rugby league to say, in effect, that we know every citizen in our community has the right to the presumption of innocence except for rugby league players, who are going to be deemed guilty until they can prove themselves innocent," Mr Conlon said.

Coyne says the NRL must trust the legal system. Photo: Mark Evans
Coyne says the NRL must trust the legal system. Photo: Mark Evans

"To suggest that you are not inferring guilt is a little hard to accept when the effect on the public hearing that a player has been suspended will be that they assume that the NRL has made its determination.

"The thing is, from the point of view of a criminal judge, it would take a very strong direction to a jury that they must disregard any suspension action taken by the NRL and not allow it to influence their impartial adjudication of the facts."

Coyne, a Dragons great now on the Australian Rugby League Commission, supported the game's decision to follow the laws of the land.

"You have to give him the benefit of innocence before he is proven guilty," Coyne said.

"I know it is causing a lot of disharmony in the fans' eyes. But what happens if the trial lasts for two years and he is found innocent and he has had two years of what is a very short career out of the game?"

Jack De Belin yesterday.
Jack De Belin yesterday.

Coyne said, if proven, the allegations "are terrible and there is no place in our game for behaviour like that".

Hughes referred to past cases where NRL stars were wrongly accused.

"What, are we going to change the laws of our country?" he said.

"I have thought long about it and I have learnt a hell of a lot from the Bulldogs' saga (in 2004), Brett Stewart and Shaun Kenny-Dowall. And the thing is the initial reaction cannot be to turn yourselves into a hanging party."