ARLC announces 'no-fault stand down policy' for players facing serious charges

ARL Commission chairman Peter Beattie and NRL CEO Todd Greenberg have announced there has been unanimous agreement from the Commission that there will be a "no-fault stand down" for players who are charged with serious criminal offences.

Beattie and Greenberg addressed the media at Rugby League Central to announce the outcome of Thursday morning's annual general meeting.

Greenberg said Dragons forward Jack de Belin, who is facing sexual assault allegations, would be the first player stood when the new policy was enacted and the CEO stressed it was not a judgement on his guilt or innocence. De Belin has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

"He'll be stood down under the no fault policy. He cannot play until the completion of that case," Greenberg said.

"This policy ensures he doesn't play but he can be around the team, be at training during the week and most importantly can take the services of that club via the welfare and services available to him. We think it's important for the club and player to have the opportunity to continue in the environment."

The chairman said the ARL was setting a benchmark for all players to protect rugby league.

"We've spent a considerable amount of time working on what's in the best interests of rugby league," Beattie said.

"I want to make it clear this is no fault, we're making no judgement whatsoever, in relation to any player charged with any offence. What we're doing is setting a benchmark and standard for the game of rugby league.

"We do have a responsibility of player welfare and we want to have a clear partnership with all clubs. They'll be able to train with the team."

Beattie said the criminal offences that apply to this rule are serious offences with a maximum jail term of 11 years or more.

"This is not about being popular, this is about sending a clear message the game does not tolerate violence, against women or children. Our job is to rebuild the reputation and protect the game. That reputation has been damaged by recent events. This is about a standard that's expected."

Greenberg said he would use this policy sparingly.

"I remind everyone here that rugby league is far greater than the Telstra Premiership. We've got obligations to millions of fans," he said.

"Our game is full of unbelievably talented, caring and kind footballers. Majority of our players do some amazing things off the field. They are truly inspirational and I see it every day in every way.

"None of us for a minute should forget how good our players are and the work they do in the community. Yes, occasionally we have issues with players and we'll deal with it, but geez don't walk away thinking rugby league players aren't doing the right thing and we should always put that at the top of our mind."

This is not about being popular, this is about sending a clear message the game does not tolerate violence, against women or children.

Peter Beattie

Dragons CEO Brian Johnston has already made a statement to say his club was supportive of the NRL's stance about player misbehaviour.

He said the club was "very, very concerned" about the welfare of de Belin. Johnston was due to meet with key officials this afternoon to discuss its response to the ARL Commission's meeting.

"I'm very supportive of the NRL to improve player behaviour and propagate the game of rugby league. What we're dealing with is a very complex and polarising subject regarding Jack de Belin," he said.

"But above all we've been guided by the legal system, the NRL rules and code of conduct. Above all we are very, very concerned about the welfare of Jack de Belin, that's our priority at the present stage.

"We're about to head off now and give consideration to the changes the NRL are making to the rules so we can digest that and clearly understand what it means."

When asked about Manly centre Dylan Walker, who is facing domestic violence charges, Greenberg said: "We'll satisfy ourselves over the coming days and make our decision."

Beattie said to not to take these measures would have been "an act of cowardice".

"We need to work on the cultural change. We've got to prevent this happening in the first place," he said.

"I have been very cautious of comments I've made but if you're chairman of Australian rugby league [you have to be]. You all know that these series of events were damaging to the game. We have to be seen by our fans and community that we're doing something about it.

"We wanted to see whether the existing old rules worked, and they didn't, they clearly didn't. We had to make a change to the rules.

"It was all the events off field, one or two of these events we would've let through the process but we ended up with a tsunami."

Greenberg added he would be announcing the sanctions for recent integrity issues involving NRL clubs on Friday.

Rugby League Players’ Association chief executive Ian Prendergast released a statement on Thursday to express his disappointment about the ARL Commission's change in policy.

"The ramifications for players will be substantial – both those who are currently defending charges and those who may be subject to the same situation in the future," he said.

"Whilst we respect the Commission’s view that this is a ‘no fault’ policy, the reality is that standing down a player indefinitely can impact on the fundamental principle of the presumption of innocence and may prejudice the legal process.

"As we have consistently stated, this change will do irreparable damage to the player and his employment.

"Professional athletes already have short careers and waiting for the conclusion of a court case would significantly impact, and in some cases, end their time in the game.

"The RLPA reaffirms its stance that strong action needs to be taken against any player or official found guilty of violence against women – it has no place in our game or society. 

"However, until such time as there is objective proof of such conduct, we do not believe the game can or should act."

The recent negativity surrounding player misbehaviour has drawn attention away from the NRL's financial gains.

Dragons lock Jack de Belin.
Dragons lock Jack de Belin. ©Paul Barkley/NRL Photos

The NRL's financial report was handed down at the ARL annual general meeting.

A year after the NRL needed to seek a loan following successive financial losses, the game’s governing body has delivered a stunning turn-around to announce a $46 million profit on the back of increased broadcast, sponsorship and digital revenue.

Total consolidated revenue for the 2018 season was $499.9 million – a 40 per cent increase from the $377 the game earned in 2017 when the NRL recorded a $3.7 million net loss.

While most of the gain came from broadcast revenue of $318 million, non-broadcast revenue also grew by 21 per cent or $30.9 million last year, while costs were down.