Jack de Belin has returned to the rugby league field, nearly 1000 days since he last laced on a boot.
The 30-year-old turned out for St George Illawarra in their NSW Cup match against Western Suburbs, just days after confirmation that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions had dropped the remaining sexual assault charges against him.
Two juries were unable to reach a verdict on five of the six charges against de Belin, with the back-rower found not guilty of a sixth charge.
Today’s appearance is his first game since he was charged in late 2018. He had been subject to the NRL’s no-fault stand-down policy.
Turning out for the Dragons at Lidcombe Oval, de Belin came off the bench and played just over half the match.
While he’s eligible to make his NRL return as soon as St George Illawarra’s match against Brisbane on Thursday, coach Anthony Griffin says he may need more time.
“I’d rather see how he gets thorough this,” Griffin said.
“It would be a big ask to play next Thursday. He’ll be terribly sore after today.
“We’ll see what happens over the next couple of days. He wants to play as quickly as possible, and we want him on our list as quickly as possible, but we won’t do anything stupid that will put him in jeopardy of hurting himself after being out this long.
“He was gassed after four or five minutes. But he’s been really effective. He’s been everywhere he needs to be and neat with his defence.”
Griffin acknowledged that de Belin is keen to get back to the top level.
“Jack has had his challenges off the field the last couple of years. I haven’t had a great deal to do with him. But he’s been really determined and focused,” he said.
“He wants to get back into the NRL. As soon as that’s the right time, he’ll be there. We just have to make sure we care for him and we’re patient.
“He’ll rejoin training on Monday. It will be a good thing in itself to get him back into the group. He’s always been a part of the club the last couple of years, but Monday will be the first time he can turn up and know he’s back in the group.”
During the week the Dragons confirmed that de Belin’s new contract, signed late last year, will keep him at the club until at least 2023.
Despite de Belin missing more than two years of football while his case made its way through the courts, ARLC boss Peter V’landys said yesterday the No-Fault Stand-Down policy is here to stay.
“Absolutely I feel sorry for Jack, but what we had to do as a game, we had a very serious position, being custodians of the game, and we have to consider the game as a whole,” V’landys told Radio 2GB’s Ben Fordham.
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