National News

De Belin banned by NRL but matter not over

Jack de Belin has maintained his innocence as the possibility of a legal battle looms over the St George Illawarra lock being stood down by the NRL.

De Belin was banned on Thursday, under new policies ushered in by the game's chairman Peter Beattie, who claimed the NRL now had the power to fix the game's broken culture.

Under the new rules, players facing charges which carry a maximum jail term of 11 years or more would be stood down under a no-fault policy which Beattie stressed didn't apply a presumption of guilt.

NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg also has the discretion to stand down players facing other serious charges, including violence against women and children.

However, the rules immediately met resistance from the players' union, which said it would back any member who wanted to consider their legal options.

It had previously been touted that de Belin could file an injunction against the NRL.

While no such announcement was made on Thursday, the NSW State of Origin lock broke his silence via a club media release for the first time since pleading not guilty to aggravated sexual assault.

"Rugby league has always been a big part of my life, I love the game," de Belin said.

"I am innocent and will vigorously defend the charge against me."

De Belin will still be afforded full pay and be able to train with the Dragons.

The NRL's changes come after an off-season which has included 17 off-field scandals at a rate of almost one every 10 days.

Beattie said the game's reputation had to be rebuilt, and denied claims by the Rugby League Players' Association (RLPA) the rules could cause prejudice.

"I do (believe this can change the culture)," Beattie said. "Because this is the first time we've actually got a rule with teeth.

"It's a rule that can bring about cultural change. It's a rule that says to everyone in the game that you have got to behave.

"At the end of it all, we've got to have standards and values. We've sent out a message."

Beattie claimed the changes had been supported by 15 of the NRL's 16 club chairs, with Melbourne vocal on Thursday afternoon in their praise.

But the Dragons were still considering their position late on Thursday.

"We understand and support the commission's desire to improve the standards of player behaviour and propagate the game," CEO Brian Johnston said.

"This is a very complex and difficult issue that impacts many stakeholders.

"To date, we have been guided by the NRL rules and code of conduct, in addition to advice suggesting any action taken by the club could interfere with the judicial process.

"Given the change today, we need time to digest this information and consider the implications for our club."

The RLPA also said while it was supportive of wiping out off-field violence, it claimed the rules would impact on employment rights.

"That is a matter we will engage the commission and NRL on in the coming days and weeks, as well as considering our options legally and through the CBA dispute process," RLPA boss Ian Prendergast said.

"As always, we will support our members to explore any legal options they may have available to them."

© AAP 2019