James Maloney believes the NRL will enter ‘‘some really muddy waters’’ if any proposed changes to its disciplinary policy force Jack de Belin to be stood down next week.
As a call on the St George Illawarra forward looms, ARL Commission chairman Peter Beattie emailed club chief executives, chairs and state bosses on Monday to declare they would be ‘‘decisive and clear’’ about the game’s policy on serious misconduct when they met on Thursday week.
De Belin could turn out for the Dragons before then, with the club having been expected to give the entire NRL squad some minutes in a trial match against Newcastle at Jubilee Oval on Saturday night.
As debate rages about whether the 27-year-old should be stood down while he faces a charge of aggravated sexual assault, one of the game’s most vocal players said on Monday he should be allowed to continue to play under a presumption of innocence.
Maloney, who is a director of the Rugby League Players' Association, said of his NSW State of Origin teammate: ‘‘Everyone in the country is entitled to the presumption of innocence until they are proven guilty, and just because you’re a footballer or a high-profile person, you don’t lose that right.
‘‘You get into some really muddy waters when you start making punishments and doing things before anything is actually [proven]. I’ve run into a few of the boys and spoken to them about how he is. I haven’t spoken to him personally, but he’s doing it pretty tough I think, as is anyone in that sort of situation.
‘‘At the end of the day everything will come out with what has gone on, and then you deal with it after that.’’
While Beattie and the ARLC consider whether to alter the game’s policy, which currently permits players to carry on training and playing if they plead not guilty to charges in court, the players’ union say they would need to tick off on any changes under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement with the governing body. The RLPA has already declared it is in favour of the current policy of not standing down players and ensuring players’ ‘‘fundamental rights to the presumption of innocence are protected’’.
Beattie said in his email to the club and state powerbrokers: ‘‘As you know our game is going through a difficult and frustrating time as a result of bad behaviour and allegations of bad behaviour from a handful of players.
‘‘The ARLC and NRL cannot sit on their hands. In light of recent events, we are reviewing the game’s current disciplinary policy. We are currently preparing legal advice ... this will cover our options plus the impact on a defendant’s presumption of innocence on these options.
‘‘We will make an informed decision based on all these facts on February 28 and after taking it to a meeting of club and state chairs and CEOs that day, it will be announced and vigorously explained and defended’.’’
St George Illawarra are due to play their Charity Shield against South Sydney two days after the ARLC meeting. Dragons coach Paul McGregor and chief executive Brian Johnston could not be contacted on Monday. De Belin has continued training with the Dragons and is physically ready to play in a trial.
RLPA boss Ian Prendergast told the Herald on Monday night: ‘‘The NRL has engaged with us to discuss this complex matter.
‘‘Any change to the current approach that would materially impact players in their employment would require our agreement.
‘‘Whilst we think the current policy should be maintained, we are prepared to discuss ways the game can be protected, while also protecting and respecting the players’ individual rights.’’