The NRL’s no-fault stand down policy will be put to the test this week when the governing body and Rugby League Players Association go before an arbitrator on Thursday.
However, NRL CEO Andrew Abdo is comfortable with the policy’s place in the game and says “it’s not going anywhere.”
The Sydney Morning Heraldreports the RLPA is challenging the rule, arguing it was introduced in February, 2019, without adequate consultation making it a breach of the players’ collective bargaining agreement.
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The NRL will go into the hearing with a slight edge given the no-fault stand down policy was examined in court in May last year. Federal Court Justice Melissa Perry dismissed a claim that the rule constituted an “unlawful trade” for Dragons player Jack de Belin.
De Belin has already spent the 2019 and 2020 seasons on the sidelines due to sexual assault charges and will now miss the opening two months of the 2021 season at the very least after a jury was unable to reach a verdict in his trial last month. His new trial will commence in April.
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The stance of the no-fault stand down policy and how it is affecting de Belin has ultimately sparked some criticism.
Dragons sponsor Norm Black — owner of TripADeal — said the policy was “so flawed it’s beyond words” and highlighted what it could suggest.
“It creates a feeling of guilt,” Black said.
“It’s a one-size-fits-all rule and I think that’s wrong.”
While de Belin’s lawyer David Campbell SC said a player “could be held out for five years” under the rule and believes it should be used on a case-by-case basis.
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Regardless, NRL CEO Andrew Abdo is “very confident” the governing body will come out of Thursday’s hearing on top.
“It’s not going anywhere,” Abdo said.
“Despite the fact that we’re in arbitration with the RLPA, we’re very, very confident that we will win the arbitration and it will be upheld, and we won’t have to talk about it any more.”
He told the Herald that ideally there wouldn’t even be a need for the policy because players wouldn’t get themselves into dangerous situations.
Tigers were my only option
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“It’s there for, hopefully, very rare occasions. We would love to not have this debate because the rule is never invoked”
“We won’t prejudge innocence or guilt, but don’t put yourself in a position when you’re faced with those charges.
“Ideally, we’re not talking about it, because players haven’t put themselves in a position.”
The no-fault rule is the legacy of the previous chairman Peter Beattie. Beattie stuck his neck out when the game was reeling and he will be justified if the governing body is successful this week.
The players may argue the NRL is boxing itself into corner – which could be very costly for the game – with its rigid stance on the policy.
Enacting the policy was the right move when it was made. If any player has committed a serious offence, especially against a woman, they deserve to have the book thrown at them. They certainly should not be playing in the NRL. But it was put together in haste to ensure it was enforceable before the 2019 season.
Consequently, it is flawed in the eyes of critics. It has no contingency for the Jack de Belin situation, where he has been forced out of the game for two years – and faces even longer on the sideline while a retrial is held.
His position becomes even worse next year as his new contract penalises him financially while he awaits trial – on top of the ongoing reputational damage.
The real dilemma for the NRL will come if de Belin’s second trial – using the same evidence and probably the same witnesses – comes up with the same result, with the jury unable to make a decision.
Legal experts say a third trial is held “only in exceptional circumstances”, so de Belin would most likely be freed with the same question marks hanging over his head that put him out of the game in the first place.
If that were to happen, most expect de Belin would sue the game for damages. While the Federal Court ruled last year that the no-fault policy was legal, de Belin would argue it was never meant to be so punitive and he should have been allowed back in the NRL once the first trial could not determine his guilt or innocence.
Poor man’s Politis
They made the grand final, boast the brightest star in the game in Nathan Cleary and are sitting on a gold mine of young talent, but behind the scenes questions are being asked whether chairman Dave O’Neill is the right man to be at the helm of the Panthers.
The club has stumbled through a number of crises in recent times. There was the sex-tape scandal, when Tyrone May was found guilty of recording four videos without the consent of the women in them and narrowly avoided jail. Then there was the messy hiring of coach Ivan Cleary.
The most recent issue is Brent Naden testing positive to cocaine from a test on the night of the grand final, for which the player is now provisionally suspended.
But it’s O’Neill’s behaviour in and around the grand final that has brought his role into the spotlight within the club’s playing ranks.
It’s hard to comprehend that the Panthers, who are shaping as 2021 premiership favourites, would have issues. However, this column has heard O’Neill referred to as “Uncle Dave” because the players think he is trying to mimic the game’s most revered chairman, the Roosters’ Nick Politis.
The Roosters boss has a rare bond with his players and even those who leave the club rarely have a bad word to say about him.
O’Neill is a Panthers fan and sponsor who has risen through the ranks. It seems he wants to be seen as a Politis-type figure.
It has emerged that at the captain’s run on the day before the grand final, O’Neill went out of his way to deliver a speech to the players. It was heartfelt, but the players thought it was odd.
“It made us cringe,” one player said. “It was all this gladiatorial stuff about who we are representing. We know all of that. We know we play for the Penrith community and we are proud of that and don’t need reminding. We saw him walking up to us and were wondering what is going on here. The boys didn’t know what the point of it was.”
Making it worse, the team had already been through two other speeches. It’s worth noting that Politis wouldn’t do that before a grand final. After the loss, O’Neill hugged players – something Politis would also do – but the Panthers players don’t have that rapport with their boss.
O’Neill’s pat on the head for Cleary also grabbed their attention, as did his comments about the exit of Matt Burton. It wasn’t the comments themselves that raised eyebrows – that Penrith should be compensated for bringing through young talents who then move clubs – but that CEO Brian Fletcher had said the same thing a day earlier. It was seen as a grab for the limelight when the club really didn’t need to say any more.
I have heard that prominent solicitor Mark Mulock is seen as a possible Panthers chairman down the track. He is a Penrith man and his family has a rich tradition at the club, with his dad Ron a former Penrith mayor as well as being deputy premier of NSW. Mark is highly regarded by some powerful figures at Penrith.
O’Neill did not respond to requests for comment.
Reynolds finds peace on and off field
Josh Reynolds’ personal life has been a huge talking point for much of 2020 after he was duped by a woman who cashed in on his good nature, bringing an assault charge against him that was dropped after reports she had conned him out of money and faked a pregnancy.
Reynolds has sought to leave that horrible experience with Arabella Del Busso behind him. He signed a deal with Hull FC during the week after enduring a tough three years at the Wests Tigers. And the former Bulldog also has a beautiful new partner, Brittany Evans, a mother of two. “I’m very happy now,” he said. “And going to Hull has one down side, that she can’t be there with me the whole time.”
The reason is simple – Evans shares custody of her children with their dad. On Reynolds’ Instagram page, you can see he is heavily involved with her kids. Telling her he was moving abroad was not easy. “She gets it,” he said. “She knows it’s what I need for my career. She understands me. That’s why she is a keeper.”
And Reynolds will ensure they don’t drift apart. They have plans for her to travel to the UK on at least a couple of occasions. Reynolds was scarred by the Del Busso incident and admits he is a changed person because of it. Reynolds says love in his personal life and from Hull FC has given him a new outlook on the game.
“I lost the passion for it,” he said. “I wasn’t playing and, let’s be honest, I was not wanted by the club I was at. That’s not easy to live with. But the love from Hull has renewed my passion. Everyone wants to feel loved and Iam getting that. It’s given me a boost … I’m not having a go at ‘Madge’ [Tigers coach Michael Maguire] or anyone who didn’t pick me. I was not first choice and I have to live with that. I’m just glad that I will get the chance to finish how I wanted.”
Up for grabs
The charity world is about to get two prized items courtesy of league-loving Sydney art dealer Steve Nasteski. He is keen to raise money for a kids charity and is weighing up a couple of options. He recently purchased a cap worn by Indian cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar in 1971 and also has Greg Chappell’s baggy green. He bought both from England great Geoff Boycott. Nasteski is a massive sports fan with the Bunnies his passion. Nasteski has played a big part in the development of Joseph Suaalii as a person and footballer.
Speaking of Suaalii, he has made himself known to all the Roosters staff and players. Club management has been super impressed with his attitude. The Roosters say they will adopt the same media approach with Suaalii that they adopted with James Tedesco when he joined – nothing for the short term while he settles in.
Don’t expect him to answer a range of questions about leaving Souths. Or the key reason he couldn’t get a deal done – the get-out clauses we revealed he insisted upon, which the Roosters agreed to. He’s had a rough start to his career media wise so it will be fascinating to hear him speak when he does.
Tale of the tape
Kurt Capewell’s story falls into the regrettable and sad category. When Nine News was given the tape of Capewell appearing in a porn movie from eight years ago – before his NRL career – on Wednesday morning, we had a conversation with Andrew Abdo.
He said the NRL integrity unit had been aware of it for some time and no action was being taken against Capewell. At that point we decided it was not a story to pursue. Capewell had his reasons for coming forward as the video had resurfaced on porn websites and in group chats.
We’ve heard he told teammates he was paid $10,000 for appearing in the video, but the cost for him now is the public shame he has to deal with.
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Under the NRL rule, players charged with an offence carrying a maximum prison term of 11 years or more are automatically stood down until their court proceedings are finalised.
De Belin’s lawyer, David Campbell SC, said the delays revealed flaws in the NRL’s hardline stance on player behaviour.
“That’s a vice of the rule, isn’t it?” Campbell told the Herald. “The absence of some discretionary element in the rule is highlighted by this case because somebody could be held out for five years.
“There needs to be some discretionary amelioration with the harshness of the rule.”
The NRL has indicated it won’t change the policy despite the hung jury further holding up a potential playing return for de Belin.
The Dragons announced an in-principle agreement to retain de Belin after his contract expired at the end of the season. Clauses were inserted into the contract – which the NRL refuses to register until the outcome of the case – to protect the Red V from paying the 29-year-old in full if he isn’t able to take the field.
The Rugby League Players’ Association opposed the introduction of the rule on the basis the NRL didn’t properly consult with them before doing so, as required under the collective bargaining agreement. After mediation talks failed, the matter is now scheduled for an arbitration hearing prior to Christmas.
The Dragons had hoped that the saga would be resolved, one way or another, this week. But a hung jury means new Dragons coach Anthony Griffin still won’t know whether his best forward will be available in 2021.
Griffin’s pack is lacking experience after the departures of James Graham and Tyson Frizell, while the club walked away from plans to pursue Broncos forward Joe Ofahengaue, who ultimately signed with Wests Tigers. The Dragons still have four roster spots to fill, despite signing Poasa Faamausili from the Roosters and former Bronco Jack Bird, who could potentially fill in for de Belin in the back row despite playing most of his football at centre or five-eighth.
The Dragons still have some salary cap space remaining for 2021, but are likely to wait until a decision is made on de Belin before making a major purchase.
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Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan says he understands the debate over the lack of a no-fault stand down policy in the competition.
It comes as Sydney Swans young gun Elijah Taylor was stood down by the club on Tuesday after being charged with aggravated assault by West Australian Police.
Earlier this year, Collingwood star Jordan De Goey was charged over a sexual assault incident that is alleged to have taken placed in 2015.
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However, De Goey wasn’t stood down and was a match-winner for the club against Geelong just weeks after.
The debate about the AFL following the NRL’s lead on a no-fault policy has taken centre stage following Taylor’s indiscretion, with his ex-partner speaking out about an incident on Sunday morning.
Speaking on Fox Footy’s AFL 360, McLachlan explained there was plenty of discussions going on behind the scenes.
“We’ve got a strong respect and responsibility, we take the advice of the experts and the formulation of that and it gets reviewed annually,” he explained.
“The debate this week has been about no-fault stand down. That’s been debated in the past. Our policy is based on the complaint at the centre and we treat every case on its merits and they are all different.”
“After that it is difficult to say, but I understand the debate.
“It’s a debated position that we don’t have the policy and we treat every case on their facts. It’s a good and fair debate and I’m sure it will happen at the end of the year.”