NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo has vowed that abuse or vilification of Jack de Belin will not be tolerated as the St George Illawarra forward prepares to make his rugby league return.
Ex-State of Origin player de Belin will play his first professional match in more than two years on Saturday once rape charges are formally dropped by the NSW Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions on Friday.
The NRL will then register his contract with the Dragons, allowing de Belin to make his return in reserve grade at Lidcombe Oval against Western Suburbs.
The NSWRL will bolster security for the match to counter any possible backlash from spectators, while Abdo admitted he did not know how de Belin would be received in his return.
“I’m not sure how fans will receive Jack, but I will say this, if these charges are in fact dropped, Jack has not been found guilty of any crime, he will be free to play in the competition,” Abdo said.
“We’ll always protect and support our players. We don’t accept any vilification or any abuse from our fans for any of our players, so we’ll make sure we’ll be supporting Jack just as we’d be supporting any NRL players.”
The NSW Cup game will be de Belin’s first match since the 2018 finals, having been stood down by the NRL during the legal process.
De Belin could then be eligible to play for the Dragons as soon as round 13 against Brisbane, but his NRL return will be at the discretion of coach Anthony Griffin.
The endorsement of de Belin’s contract with the NRL is set to trigger a huge pay rise for the 30-year-old.
Last year de Belin signed a new deal with the Dragons worth around $700,000 a season, but a clause was inserted that he would earn just $1,000 a week until criminal proceedings were over.
Earlier this month de Belin, and co-accused, Callan Sinclair, were left in limbo for the second time when a jury could not reach a verdict on rape charges related to an alleged sexual assault of a teenager in Wollongong in December 2018.
It was the second trial after the first also resulted in a hung jury, with the DPP indicating on Thursday they would not push for a third trial.
“It’s a situation where there are no winners, but it’s a good opportunity now to close the chapter and look ahead and move forward from something that’s been hanging with the club now for a bit over two years,” said Dragons chief executive Ryan Webb.