De Belin gets through first game in 987 days, but NRL return next week a ‘big ask’

Lidcombe Oval: Jack de Belin returning to St George Illawarra’s NRL side on Thursday will be a “big ask” says coach Anthony Griffin after the player got through his first game of rugby league in 987 days unscathed.

De Belin was given a surprisingly warm welcome on a cold Saturday afternoon at Lidcombe Oval as he played for St George Illawarra’s reserve grade team for the first time since having aggravated sexual assault charges against him dropped. The Dragons forward was unable to play for the past 2½ years under the NRL’s no-fault stand-down rule.

Dragons player Jack De Belin runs onto the field in NSW Cup on his return to the game.Credit:Getty

“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 [team] 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.”

De Belin, who had his right elbow strapped, was busy in attack and greeted by Wests players during breaks in play.

On one occasion when a Magpies winger was shoved into touch, de Belin rushed to pack the scrum, only to realise the Dragons were given the quick tap.

“The rules have changed about 50 times since he last played,” Griffin quipped.

“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 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.

St George Illawarra Dragons player Jack de Belin played 44 minutes at Lidcombe Oval on Saturday.Credit:Getty

“I think [the reception] will be all right whenever [the comeback] is. It’s a tough one with the legal case. He’s had two trials the last two-and-a-half years … he’s entitled to be treated well. It passes the pub test. He deserves the right to be treated that way [as a free man].”

Griffin said the interest in de Belin was easy to see and had he not played against Wests, “there’s probably only one man and his dog here”.

De Belin briefly spoke with his manager Steve Gillis and one of his barristers, Ed Anderson, after full-time. Callan Sinclair, who faced sexual assault charges alongside de Belin, was at the game as well.

The Dragons lost 34-18 to the Wests Tigers on Friday night, but should de Belin quickly discover his fitness, the 30-year-old’s impact on the Red V pack is almost as potent as what Tom Trbojevic’s influence is over at Manly.

De Belin and Sinclair faced two trials in the NSW District Court on five counts each of aggravated sexual assault after they were accused of assaulting a woman at a North Wollongong unit in the early hours of December 9, 2018.

The jury of eight men and four women acquitted the men of one charge of sexual intercourse without consent, but failed to reach an unanimous or majority verdict on the other four charges.

De Belin, 30, who unsuccessfully challenged the NRL’s no-fault stand-down rule in the Federal Curt in 2019, was earning around $1000 a week while stood down this year, but will now return to full pay, which is around $750,000 a season having signed a deal while stood down until the end of 2023.

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