Under the new ARLC policy, players charged with serious indictable offences which carry a maximum penalty of 11 years or more imprisonment will be stood down automatically.
That rule puts de Belin in the axe murder category and so he enters history as the first NRL player denied the presumption of innocence.
But the comparisons which will excite the keyboard coshers will be between Walker and the penalty Greenberg imposes on the next player charged with an offence which sits under the 11-year imprisonment threshold. Public debate will extend to the salary cap exemptions allowed in the two cases and the double discrimination against the clubs who can’t afford the extra pay cheque for the replacement.
When is anything identical in rugby league?
Greenberg declared on Thursday that «the most over-rated word in rugby league is consistency» but that won’t stop fans whining about the inequality in the length of the stand-downs he decrees.
What fans are really moaning about is «my bloke got treated worse than your bloke». It’s about the hate and the competition rather than the desire for a perfect disciplinary system. Yet the ARLC has fuelled this.
Even the description of the new rule – «no fault stand-down» is an oxymoron. Of course, it’s a nod to the judicial system but to be stood down without fault appears contradictory.
Before Thursday, the game waited until the legal process had concluded. Now, the ARLC has departed from the only area which did deliver consistency. A code which has spent a month being a national referendum on the price on de Belin’s head will become an ulcer-inducing year for Greenberg and his COO Nick Weeks. Beattie admitted as much, saying: «We’ve put the wood on him [Greenberg] to do this.’’
Beattie conceded he must accept the prospect of players being put out of the game and ultimately acquitted. But will the people cheering the change of course now be backing the NRL in 18 months if a player is found to be falsely accused? Given the Shaun Kenny-Dowall case, I know where my money is. The same voices in the media promoting the call by former NSW premier Mike Baird for the NRL to stand the-then Roosters player down following allegations of domestic violence were calling on Baird to apologise to him when he was cleared by the courts.
Perhaps the most relevant comparison is between de Belin and Cardinal George Pell. Those in law enforcement and the judicial system admit the practices of police have changed in relation to sexual assault and domestic violence. There are sound policy reasons for this and victim advocacy groups support it but the truth is that police are more risk averse than ever.
If a complainant brings a credible allegation of assault to them, they will proceed with charges in almost all cases unless there are gaping holes in the story. The police take the view that it is simply safer for them to charge and let the courts work it out. This reflects a transfer of risk from the police to the judicial system. De Belin and Cardinal Pell were both charged with sexual assault. Perhaps part of their punishment derives from the police/public image of their cultures, in Pell’s case, the sins of the Fathers, so to speak and in the NRL, the nationally reported cases of group sex.
A difference is that the Pell was not stood down by the Church and didn’t lose his Vatican position until Thursday. This was the same day the pain of the NRL’s worst off-season ended, not with a prayer of renewal but with the prospect of more floggings in the square of public opinion.
Roy Masters is a Sports Columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.