The letter states that de Belin has not been convicted of any crime, that there is no firm evidence — such as video footage — to justify a suspension, that he’s not a danger to players or officials and has not “brought the game into disrepute”.
The concerns notice demands that Beattie immediately issues an apology and retraction of any comments that impute that the Blues lock forward is guilty of the allegations. The letter also warns that both de Belin and the Dragons reserve their legal rights, as both parties will be adversely affected by his absence on the field. Even if de Belin remains on full pay, he will miss out on representative payments and other opportunities to progress his career, while the Dragons won’t be able to adequately replace him even if given salary cap dispensation.
The legal team is closely monitoring every word said or written on the case and have already served a major media outlet with a concerns notice.
The developments raise fresh questions over whether the ARLC’s mooted policy change to stand down players facing serious crimes could withstand a legal challenge. Under existing protocols, players facing charges are allowed to continue playing until their court case is heard. However, there is discretion from the NRL CEO and COO, a power that has not yet been used.
It was expected de Belin wouldn’t play again unless he was acquitted, a process that could potentially take up to two years given how long it could take for a verdict to be delivered. However, with a successful injunction bid he could be back for the Red V for the opening-round clash against North Queensland in Townsville. It could also be a blow to the NRL’s intention to take a hardline stance against players whose behaviour tarnishes the image of the game.
De Belin was a notable omission from the Dragons’ 23-man squad for Saturday’s Charity Shield clash with South Sydney at Mudgee at Glen Willow Stadium. The Dragons opted not to select him “in the interest of player welfare”, as he is understood to be struggling to deal with the fallout from the police charges.
Dragons players are prepared to play alongside him, as evidenced by the strong public support he received from teammate and RLPA director Jeremy Latimore. The RLPA wants the existing policy to remain and will support de Belin in any injunction bid.
Thursday’s ARLC meeting will also close the book on at least half a dozen integrity matters including the salary cap investigation into Cronulla, the Dylan Napa sex tapes, the futures of Wests Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe and former Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan and whether players facing domestic violence allegations will be forced to stand down until their court cases are finalised.
It remains to be seen whether Manly star Dylan Walker, who is contesting charges of assaulting his fiancee and whose case has been adjourned until May 10, will be able to continue playing until that matter has been resolved.
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.